Garlic, or Allium sativum, is related to onions, leeks and chives. It is indigenous to Central Asia and has been cultivated by humankind for at least 5000 years. It is one of the most widely eaten food crops in the world and is commonly used in cuisines from Asia, India, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Today in North America and Europe, garlic is most commonly roasted (often with meat or vegetables), though other common recipes involve pickling it, crushing raw garlic and adding it to sauces and dressings, or even making garlic tea. Some of our Ukrainian friends like to eat whole raw garlic as a snack!
Due to its universal appeal and cultural relevance, garlic should be grown in every edible garden. There’s always a use for garlic!
According to Richard Rivlin’s research published by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences:
“Garlic was in use at the beginning of recorded history and was found in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples. There are Biblical references to garlic. Ancient medical texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India each prescribed medical applications for garlic.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that roughly 10 million metric tons of garlic are cultivated annually across the globe on 2.5 million acres of farmland.
Modern research cited by the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens suggests that garlic “may be effective in many ways including: pain relief; anti-worm, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, antioxidant, and anticancer properties; lowering of blood glucose and blood pressure; and liver protection.”
Choosing Your Seed Garlic:
There are two primary groups of garlic, “hardneck” and “softneck.”
Chefs prefer hardneck varieties because their cloves tend to be bigger, more uniform and easier to peel. Hardneck varieties prefer colder winters, so they can be more challenging to grow in climates with milder winters. Softneck varieties grow well in mild winters but their cloves tend to be smaller. The best thing about softneck garlic is that it is easier to braid than hardneck varieties.
If you are growing garlic for the first time, consider trying out a few different varieties to see which do best for you. Make sure to label them (with a label that will last until harvest – at least 6-8 months after planting).
Though we love the hardneck varieties Chesnok Red, Spanish Roja, Purple Italian and Music, we have found Inchelium Red softneck garlic to be the best performing garlic for our gardens along the California Central Coast.
Note: It is always recommended to use certified “disease-free” seed garlic, though we often save garlic for “seed” from previous year’s crops, as long as the crop did not show sign of disease.
Regardless of your climate, late October is garlic planting season. In colder climates, garlic will establish its roots before the ground freezes but will not germinate until spring. In milder climates, garlic will germinate within 2-4 weeks of planting. Here are some of the basics on growing garlic:
1. Cultivate your soil, adding plenty of compost and making sure the soil is well aerated so that the cloves don’t rot when you plant them.
2. Separate your cloves of garlic, carefully ensuring that the protective “paper” layer on the clove is preserved.
3. Plant the cloves about 2-4 inches below the surface of the soil, making sure that the basal plate (flat part) of the clove is pointed downward.
4. Garlic can be planted in rows, with cloves about 6 inches apart, and rows about 12 inches apart (a 3-4ft-wide garden bed can accommodate 3-4 rows of garlic).
5. Do not water your garlic until it germinates.
6. Mulch your garlic with straw, leaves or coconut coir.
7. Keep your garlic weeded, fertilized and mulched throughout the growing season.
8. Remove “scapes,” or flower stalks, when they appear in the spring.
9. When the stems begin to die off in late spring, stop watering the garlic so that it can begin to cure.
10. Harvest your garlic and cure it by hanging it or placing it on a drying rack or screen in a well-ventilated area away from moisture and vermin.
11. Once it is cured (4-8 weeks), store your garlic in a cool, dry place for use throughout the year!
For more tips, see the garlic growing guides from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply and Irish Eyes Garden Seeds and this Selecting and Planting Garlic video.