“A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”
There are certainly both “benefits” and liabilities to eating garlic in a social setting, and garlic is sometimes much maligned, as delicious as it can be. But it definitely has its uses! Even Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula in 1897, touted garlic as being effective in warding off vampires. Historically, garlic has been used in Asia to treat all sorts of complaints, from bronchitis to tuberculosis, colic, diabetes, and even liver problems. Today, there is still a strong belief in the healthy aspect of garlic- look at its importance in the Mediterranean diet, for example. For more information on garlic in healthy eating, click on this link.
Garlic isn’t hard to grow, once you know the basics. A bulb, it reproduces itself by creating “offsets”, (often called cloves)- little versions of itself attached to the sides. One clove can multiply to several over the course of a year if grown properly, and you can start a cycle that will keep you in garlic forever!
Plant your first cloves in the fall; (just after Columbus Day is a good time in the Northeast), in a sunny, well drained spot with plenty of organic matter. You can plant them in the spring, but you’ll get bigger bulbs if you wait. Buy your bulbs from a reputable plant dealer (there are lots of mail order places), not from the grocery store. That way you can be sure that you have a variety that will grow well where you live, and one that hasn’t been treated with chemicals to prolong its shelf life.
When planting, plant each clove with the pointy side up, about 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Leave on the papery “wrapper”. Cover with a layer of straw or other mulch if it gets below 20 degrees in the winter. Water well, then wait!
In the spring, green shoots will appear. Let them grow, making sure they have enough water and fertilizing them every couple of weeks with a general purpose fertilizer. Allow them to do their thing* until about a third of the foliage has withered, in midsummer. At this point, gently dig them up and spread them out, allowing them to rest in a warm, dry place for a couple of weeks.
Once the garlic is dry, you can braid the stems together or cut them off and put the garlic cloves in a dry place for storage until you are ready to eat them. You can also save some for planting in the fall and start the cycle all over again!
* Some people like to cook with the scapes, the stalks with unopened flower buds at the end. If you are one of those people, harvest away! Removing them will allow the plant to put more energy into growing a bigger bulb, anyway, so it’s actually recommended even if you don’t eat them.
Enjoy the benefits of your garlic, and tell those vampires to move along…
Some sources for garlic bulbs: