Environment » Nature

Ya Gotta Love Garlic

Think your planting is done by late spring? Try sowing some garlic this fall for a pungent, oh so tasty crop next summer.

Come September this year’s garlic crop has already been enjoyed for over a month and is safely stored. After all, it was planted nearly 11 months ago.

I love garlic, a.k.a. “the stinking rose,” because it’s easy to grow just about anywhere in Canadian soil, stores well and tastes great.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t actually like garlic. Sure, I’ve met plenty who worry about the scent of their breath after eating it. When garlic cells are ruptured by cutting or pressing, they release a sulphur-like enzyme called allinaise, the substance that produces that beautiful, heady, pungent garlic aroma.

A few garlic tips? Munch on fresh parsley to freshen your breath. Rub clean hands on a chrome faucet. Purchase a terra-cotta garlic roaster and a great garlic press.

Deep ‘Roots’

Garlic is a root crop–A bulb that grows underground and is native to Central Asia. It is part of the Allium Sativum species. It is the artichoke garlic (one of over 600 varieties worldwide) that we see most often at the vegetable market. Garlic is a life form that consumes itself in the process of becoming its new self. I have found after years of gardening that garlic is easy to grow but that great garlic is somewhat difficult to grow. Garlic is best planted in the fall, roots in the fall and winter and bulbs at out in the spring or summer making it a year-long gardening (culinary) obsession.of city and country gardeners alike.

Garlic is our oldest cultivated plant. It is from the same general family as lilies, onions and leeks. Ancient Egyptians worshiped garlic and even used it as currency. Perhaps this is where the Dutch got the idea to use tulips as currency centuries later. Greek Olympian athletes used to chew it. During the early 20th century in the United States so-called quaint diner slang associated garlic with immigrants and the lower-class. It was generally disdained and coined “Italian perfume,” and “Bronx vanilla.” While a stigma still surrounds garlic, it is enjoying increased popularity for both health and culinary reasons.

Garlic is purported to zap bacteria, Keep hearts healthy and even fight colds and coughs. Garlic has never really killed anyone unless you count an incident where 15 workers in central China were killed when they were buried in a pile of garlic at a storage warehouse. You’ve heard that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but how about “eat more garlic and let your doctor play more golf?” Most garlic advocates boast of the resulting health benefits.

Here’s a brief list I found from research on the Internet; It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol a little, reduces plaque within the arterial system (more so in women) regulates blood sugar, prevents blood clots, prevents cancer (particularly digestive), helps remove lead and mercury from the body, reduces yeast infections, acts as a natural antibiotic and boasts of antifungal and antiviral properties. It makes you wonder how it can still be a) cheap and b) legal?

Off to the garden

For this October (or early November–as long as you can work the soil and give the clove a chance to take root) get a good planting stock from a garden outlet. Take individual cloves and plant them in loose soil like a tulip bulb about 2 inches deep, 6 to 8 inches apart. Create rows about 2 feet wide. Garlic likes sunlight and a moderate amount of moisture.

Magically, each clove will become a brand-new garlic bulb by the next summer. You’ll enjoy seeing the green garlic leaves shoot through patches of snow in the springtime garden as early as March.

The hot weather causes garlic to bolt or try to go to seed. A skinny, curly shoot called a “scape” emerges and forms what looks like a mini bulb at the tip. Some garlic experts advise cutting off the scape to encourage bulb growth and longer storage life. Others contend that allowing the scape to stay gives the smaller garlic more flavour. I cut mine off. Scapes are a delicacy like fiddleheads and can even be pickled. I bought a jar of them once at a garlic festival in Milton, Ont. a few years back.

July harvest

In mid-July I take the pitchfork and carefully extract the first bulb of garlic from the garden. I cut off the roots and the leaves, then wash it and baste it with olive oil. After an hour in the oven at 175 C [350 F] the garlic goodness, now mushy, slips out of each clove and spreads beautifully on pieces of fresh buttered French bread.

It is time to dig the bulbs when the lower third to half of the leaves are browned. The longer garlic is in the ground the more the cloves of the bulb will separate. This is fine for planting stock since cloves will detach more readily from the bulb. Regenerate your current garlic for a few years prior to buying new stock. It is important to be gentle with the bulbs as thick-skinned as they may appear. Admittedly, I have impaled A few bulbs during harvesting with a pitchfork. I guess you might say I took a stab at it.

Drydown

Once out of the ground, take the garlic to a dry cool place out of the sun. The drydown process is known as curing. Keep the stock or leaves and roots intact for about a week to allow the moisture to withdraw into the bulb. Garlic dries well on top of a chicken wire mesh support. You’ll want to shake off the dried soil remains prior to storage and cut the bowl book free from the leaves (now browned). When fully cured it can be trimmed and stored in a wooden bushel basket. Be sure not to store garlic in plastic bags or sealed containers to avoid rotting. I did this with carrots once and ended up with a foul-smelling carrot soup! Garlic is milder when first pulled from the ground and becomes stronger as it cures.

Stored garlic prefers the cool, dry, dark [13-15 C and 40-60 per cent humidity] confines of a basement or root cellar. I usually run out of edible stored garlic in March or April.

If you are a garlic lover it is best to surround yourself with other garlic lovers. If you grow garlic give a friend of bold, the gift that keeps on giving (although folklore suggests that giving away garlic is tantamount to giving away your own power source). Anyway you look at it garlic is a winning crop for the perennial enjoyment of city and country gardeners alike.