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Gardening Columns

Don't Forget to Plant Garlic!

First published on on November 19, 2009, by Suzanne DeJohn

Don't forget to add garlic to your roster of fall-planted bulbs! Garlic is best planted in fall -- like daffodils and tulips -- so it can develop roots into winter and be ready to sprout when the ground thaws in spring. Although ideally planted in October, it's not too late to plant it now as long as the ground isn't frozen. 

Like its cousin the onion, there are different types of garlic that do well at different latitudes. You may have heard of long-day and short-day onions. These grow best in northern and southern parts of the country, respectively. Grow the wrong type of onion and you may get a measly little bulb or none at all. Garlic is the same, to a lesser degree. Choose a variety that's adapted to your climate and you're more likely to get nice, fat, succulent cloves. 

That's why I try to buy my garlic from a local farmer. If the bulbs in his bin look good, I can be confident that the variety will grow well for me, too. The two categories of "regular" garlic are hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic has a stiff center flower stalk and is the best type to grow in our region. Softneck garlic grows better further south; it lacks the stiff central flower stalk and is the best type for creating garlic braids. Unless they're labeled otherwise, you can assume that the varieties you see in the supermarket are softneck types, making them poor choices for planting in your garden. If you don't have a local farmer to buy from, there are regional mail-order suppliers.

To plant garlic, carefully break the whole bulb into individual cloves. Try not to bruise the garlic, peel off all the skin, or damage the roots or shoots. Plant the biggest cloves; use the smaller ones for cooking. The larger the clove, the larger the head of garlic you'll harvest next year. Plant the cloves pointy end up about 2 inches deep in loose soil, ideally one that's been amended with compost. Space the cloves 5 or 6 inches apart. Once the ground begins to freeze, mulch the bed with straw to prevent alternate freeze/thaw cycles that can damage roots. 

Scientific studies reveal that fresh garlic has antibiotic and immune-boosting properties, and it has also shown promise in fighting cancer and as an antiviral. Lore attributes garlic with other benefits: warding off vampires and the "evil eye;" giving soldiers strength and courage; helping athletes run faster.

Whether you grow garlic for its medicinal purposes, as a culinary necessity, or to ward off vampires, be sure to sneak some in before the ground freezes. Oh, and to get the smell of garlic off your hands, rinse them in cold water, rub them with table salt, then wash them with soap and water.


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