Growing and cooking with a garden and pantry mainstay

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From salads and sauces to your favorite entrée, fresh garlic and garlic powder add a unique spark to any dish and should be a mainstay for every kitchen. Celebrate it on April 19, National Garlic Day!

Planting and Growing Garlic The Farmer’s Almanac recommends using seed garlic from a local supplier like a nursery, farmers market or online supplier. Make sure you do your research ahead of time to know the difference between varieties and so you can know what will grow best in your climate. There are two different types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.

“Hardneck garlic produces fewer but larger cloves. Hardneck cloves peel easily but do not store as long as softneck types … It is beneficial to experiment with several cultivars to see which is best suited for an area. Hardnecks also produce a coiled flower scape, which is not a flower but a cluster of small garlic bulbs, also called a bubil. The scape will develop during the growing season and must be removed to gain better bulb size. The bulbils can be used for propagation, but they will lead to unwanted garlic plants as weeds if left in the garden.

“Softneck garlic can be further classified into artichoke and silverskin types. Also known as artichoke garlic, these softneck garlics produce many cloves per head, usually 14 to 20 depending on the variety. Softneck types store well and silverskin types have the best storage characteristics. As the softneck name implies, the stem emerging from the head is soft, so these are the garlic that are often displayed as a braid of dried garlic heads,” according to OSU Extension.

All garlic cultivars are “heavy feeders,” so most sources recommend fertilizing the garden space heavily with fertilizer or some type of organic matter (like chicken manure) in the weeks ahead of planting – the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension team recommends fertilizing prior to planting in autumn, in April, and if needed, in late May.

A full sun location is needed, as a growing garlic plant “requires direct light for at least six hours/day; prefers eight – 10 hours/day.” Exact timeframes vary by geographical location, but typically one plants garlic in early autumn. The plants need adequate time to take root before the first major drop in temperatures. Plant your garlic in a five-inch furrow, roughly three to six inches apart, and cover them with one to two inches of dirt. Garlic is treated as an annual; fall-planted garlic takes 250 – 270 days to reach maturity.

Photograph by Nick Collins via Pexels.com; free usage under license

Caring for Garlic Throughout the Season & Harvesting – Make sure you’ve chosen an area for your raised bed or garden that has good drainage. “Water every three to five days during bulbing (mid-May through June) … As mid-June approaches, taper off watering,” says the Farmers Almanac.

Make sure to keep the area well-weeded and maintained, but be mindful of the plant’s shallow weed systems. You don’t want to disturb your garlic plants. Organic mulch throughout the bed and between the plants is a great idea to stave off weed growth, but you will need to remove the mulch layer as spring comes and the weather starts to warm up.

Make sure to cut back the garlic leaf growth, as allowing those protrusions to grow can minimize the size of your garlic bulbs. These leaves or “scapes” are edible in their own right and a delicious addition or garnish to a spring dish. (Check out this great article from bonappetit.com for some ideas for cooking with scapes.)

When it comes to harvesting your garlic: “Depending on variety and climate zone, harvest garlic between late June and late July. Begin harvesting when the lower leaves turn brown and when half or slightly more than half of the upper leaves remain green … Harvest the garlic plants with shoots and bulbs attached … Put the plants in a warm, dry, airy place for three to four weeks to cure. This will dry the sheaths surrounding the bulbs, as well as the shoots and roots. After curing, cut the shoots one-half to one inch above the bulbs and the roots trimmed close to the bulb base. You can save your garlic cloves from one crop to the next.” (Read more at “Growing garlic in home gardens” from UMN Extension.)

How to Preserve Garlic – There are many ways to store and preserve garlic. An article from Linda J. Harris of UC-Davis says this: “The home refrigerator (typically 40º F) is not suitable for optimal long-term storage of garlic because holding garlic at that temperature stimulates sprouting. Instead, store both hardneck and softneck garlic bulbs in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place in well-ventilated containers such as mesh bags. Storage life is three to five months under cool (60º), dry, dark conditions. When stored too long the garlic cloves may shrivel or begin to sprout. Neither is harmful, but both are an indication that the garlic is no longer at its peak quality. If the garlic has sprouted, the clove can be cut in half and the center green sprout removed and discarded.”

Check out the rest of the article here for some great storage ideas, including freezing, drying or canning garlic – or storing in wine, vinegar or oil.

How to Cook with Garlic – The sky is the limit here. Garlic adds a bit of culinary magic to any dish or sauce. For simple roasted garlic? Here’s a recipe from the crew at Simply Recipes. Looking to shake up family dinner? Check out this article at Delish for some full recipe ideas to get you started.

Cooking should never be bland with such a natural explosion of flavor at our disposal. Here’s to some pungent garlicky adventures this summer!

by Andrew Haman

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