Growing Garlic, the Vegetable With a Bite
Garlic hardly shares the same place in gardener’s heart as a watermelon or tomato. In fact, watermelon and tomatoes have never given me heartburn! However, without this pungent little Allium, many dishes and cuisines wound not be complete. What would Italy do without garlic! Garlic grows well in most any garden, and once your ground has brought forth its bulbs, you will never know how you lived without it.
Garlic, like any other vegetable, comes in many varieties. Garlics separate into two main distinctions, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic gets the name from having a woody, stiff main stem. They generally have fewer cloves, but they are larger and easier to peel. Hardnecks prefer cool climates, so most cultivars do not grow well in the Southeast, where I live. Softneck garlics, on the other hand, thrive in the Southern climate. These garlics have more of a series of leaves them a true stem, and therefore the stem is softer then the hardneck relative. This makes then easy to braid, hence they are sometimes called braidable garlic. Also, softnecks keep much better than hardnecks during storage.
Softneck garlic further divide in varieties; Artichokes, Silverskins, and Creoles and Asiatics. Artichoke types produce a large bulb with many cloves stacked around in a circular pattern much like an artichoke. Silverskins yield the highest of the varieties and grow well in a wide range of climates and soils. Creoles and Asiatics rarely bolt and therefore grow well in very mild climates. They mature early and are among the first garlics to be harvested in the year. I grow a pungent artichoke cultivar, Lutz Italian, and enjoy its spicy flavor.
Prepare the soil for planting with a lot of organic material. The bulbs need as much air as possible to mature properly. This is something our soil lacked this past growing season and the bulbs suffered in size. Also fertilize the soil with plenty of compost. Garlic loves rich soil, especially high in phosphorus and potassium. Plant garlic in the fall. Planting around mid-October to mid-November grows garlic nicely here. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves, and space 6 inches apart in 1 or 1 ½ inches of soil. In harsher climates, you may need to plant deeper. Once in the ground, take care to keep the soil moist or the dry ground will stunt the bulbs. As the spring approaches, be sure that weeds do not over take the plants. If the garlic themselves seem to close together, thin and use the young leaves like onion greens.
Garlic also has the benefit of being critter resistant. Many animals find their odor offensive (along with other Alliums, such as onions) and avoid them. Planting them with other vegetables helps the patch as a whole, and saves those collard greens in the heart of winter.
Now is the time to start preparing for planting. Get out there and get growing.