In my humble opinion, and not just because I eat an entire bulb or two every day, garlic should be a staple in every home garden. Garlic is fantastic for roasting, adding to all kinds of foods, juicing, and eating raw. Elixirs and different types of vinegar can be made from garlic, as well as garlic infused oils. Garlic has many medicinal properties, which will be discussed later in this article. Not only can the bulbs be eaten, but the young greens make a great chive-like addition to your recipes. Garlic can be used in addition to other ingredients to make a useful pest deterrent.
There are two types of garlic: soft-necked (Allium sativum) and hard-necked (A. ophioscorodon). Hard-necked garlic is also known as seedstem, top-setting, or bolting garlic. This is because in late spring, just before the bulbs expand, the plant will shoot up a flower stem. For best results and larger bulbs, this stem should be removed. Keep in mind that this stem is edible. Hard-necked varieties yield larger cloves and have a tendency to taste a bit better. However, hard-necked varieties are hard to prevent sprouting while in long-term storage. Short-necked varieties have a longer shelve life, are a bit easier to grow in warmer climates, and may have slightly larger yields than hard-necked varieties. Almost all varieties that are found in the grocery store are soft-neck. Most garlic found in grocery stores are also usually sprayed with anti-sprouting chemicals unless you are buying organic garlic. Even still, some garlic will again sprout. I have planted cloves that have sprouted with good fortune in my garden. I do prefer, however, to purchase cloves/bulbs through reputable organic seed companies.
Although not a true garlic, yet still belonging to the onion family, I will add Elephant garlic (A. ampeloprasum). In actuality, it is a variant of the garden leek. However, it is used much like garlic. It has a much milder flavor and can produce up to one pound bulbs. Overall, the plants are much taller, growing upwards of four feet tall.
Garlic grows best in deep, rich, well-drained soil, with full sun. If planted in areas that are too wet, your garlic will be more prone to rotting. Planting garlic in the fall is recommended. Plant on or around Columbus day, unless you are in the deep south, which can be planted even later. Some people recommend to not plant any other time of the year. However, as I live in the south and have long growing seasons, I have planted garlic in the spring with good results. You do want your garlic to have some good root growth before winter sets in. By getting some roots established, frost is less likely to push your garlic out of the ground. If you plant in the spring and don't have good results with bulb growth, all is not lost. The greens can be used.
Plant only healthy cloves, and the larger, the better. Space the cloves four to six inches apart. Elephant garlic should be spaced eight inches apart. Place cloves one to two inches deep in rows no closer than one foot apart. Be sure to plant the cloves root end down. Cover loosely with soil, then mulch lightly. You can skip the mulching process if you plant a cover crop that will be killed off during the winter. On average, you can expect to harvest five to ten pounds of garlic per twenty feet of row.
The health benefits of garlic are tremendous. Due to garlic having anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties, it can be used to treat Athlete's Foot. Garlic contains a compound known as "ajoene" from the Spanish word "ajo," which means garlic. This content is found to be very effective against a number of fungal infections. Garlic can be used to help prevent and treat colds and the flu by helping to boost the immune system. It's good at helping to strengthen the heart by helping to reduce cholesterol, as well as high blood pressure. Garlic helps to thin the blood, allowing for increased blood flow. If you are on blood thinners, you should probably seek professional advice before ingesting too much garlic. Garlic contains a compound known as Allicin. The Allicin content of garlic helps in regulating the levels of triglycerides in the blood. Allicin, also, indirectly lowers the total cholesterol level in the blood. Allicin is a great antibacterial and antimicrobial agent; because of this, garlic helps fight off the bacteria that cause respiratory illnesses. Some studies show that garlic helps prevent and fight cancer, as well as helps combat allergies. Garlic can help detox the liver. Garlic regulates the glutathione in the body. Glutathione are enzymes that help with the elimination of toxins in the body. Increased garlic intake can lead to an increase in the levels of glutathione in the body. This will then help with detoxifying the liver.
GROWING GUIDELINES: In spring, you can encourage vigorous leaf growth by applying foliar seaweed or a fish emulsion spray every two weeks. I skip this part and add compost from my little homestead. It is a mixture of pig, rabbit and chicken poo that has been composted over the winter, along with garden "waste." These things composted down together makes a fantastic fertilizer. Watering is essential during the bulb-forming stage. Don't over water and make the ground soggy, as your bulbs will rot. Weed your beds regularly, so your garlic doesn't have to compete for space and nutrients.
PROBLEMS: To prevent disease, avoid excess standing moisture in your garlic beds. Viruses can sometimes be a problem. You can still get a harvest out of your garlic, but the yields may be diminished. Many Allium species will ward off pests such as aphids, carrot flies, and Japanese beetles. This can be beneficial to your other garden plants, especially if you are companion planting. If viruses do infect your crop, future occurrences may be avoided by rotating your crop, as most fungi live in the soil.
HARVESTING: Once the leaves start to turn brown, check your plants frequently. Bulbs should be at full size during this time frame, with wrappers fully formed around each bulb. If you harvest too early, you will have smaller bulbs. If you wait too long, the outer wrapper may be more likely to tear, resulting in your garlic not being able to stay in storage for as long. Your garlic will need to be cured. Cure your garlic in a hot, dry, dark space that has good air flow. This should be done for a few weeks for optimal results. Trim the roots and the neck. Soft-necked varieties can be braided and hung in storage.
ALLIUM/PEPPER PEST SPRAY
- Three to four bulbs garlic, crushed with paper still attached
- One to two onions, depending on size, chopped with paper still attached
- A handful of hot peppers, dried or fresh, crushed
- One bunch of parsley
- Cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp organic dish detergent (I use Meyer's)
Add all ingredients, except dish detergent, to a large stockpot. Cover garlic, onion, parsley, and peppers with cider vinegar. Make sure vinegar is about four inches above the solid ingredients. Bring to a boil. Once at a rolling boil, reduce the temperature to a simmer. I simmer mine overnight, as I want a powerful pest spray. When ready, strain pulp through a sieve. Compost the pulp. Store Allium liquid in a glass jar. Add 1 part Allium liquid to three parts filtered water to a clean spray bottle with the dish detergent. Shake thoroughly. The dish detergent acts as an emulsifier and allows the spray to adhere to the plants. Diluting the Allium mixture will help the spray not burn your plants. Spray plants on the tops and undersides of leaves. This will need to be reapplied after a heavy rain.
GARLIC PEPPER INFUSED OIL:
- Whole garlic cloves
- Fresh or dried hot peppers
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Add garlic and peppers to a clean, sterilized bottle. Cover with olive oil. Store in a dark cabinet away from heat and light. Make sure to shake bottle once a day for approximately three weeks. The longer you let the mixture infuse, the stronger the taste. Use oil for cooking, or add to a salad as a dressing. Your options are only limited to your imagination.
GARLIC VINEGAR (for immune health):
- Whole garlic cloves
- Apple cider Vinegar, with the mother
GARLIC VINEGAR (for cleaning):
- Whole garlic cloves
- White vinegar
- Tea Tree Oil, optional
Steep cloves in vinegar for approximately 3 weeks. Strain garlic and compost. Add the remaining liquid to a spray bottle and use as a disinfectant spray. Tea tree oil can be added as an additional disinfectant.