If you are a gardener and a cook, homegrown garlic is a must-do on your fall garden list. Nothing beats the taste of lovingly grown garlic and being a crop that grows well in many regions, there is no need to purchase imported garlic in the store (check labels!). Growing your own also opens up a whole new world of variety possibilities.
Pictured is the basket of labeled garlic I use for my Thursday demos at Lehman’s store and it’s interesting to hear folks who thought that “garlic was garlic” be amazed at the options. I am planting fifteen garlic varieties this fall, and one year a friend of ours (who is also a Lehman’s employee) planted fifty different kinds! Some are sturdy hard neck varieties like German Extra Hardy, the soft necks like Lorz Italian are great for braiding,Â others like Georgian Fire have a more pungent flavor, while some are great for roasting like Chesnok Red. Our family favorite is Music, which is a Porcelain hard neck variety with large cloves and an excellent medium garlic flavor.
Fall is garlic planting time in Ohio along with many other regions in the US (except for the extreme south where they can do an early spring planting). Some say you just need to remember two holidays to grow garlic; Columbus Day and the Fourth of July. The cloves can be planted anytime after Columbus Day till the ground freezes and July is generally harvest time.
The garlic used for planting is the same as the garlic you eat, you just want to be sure to have disease-free bulbs and select the biggest ones since large cloves will produce large bulbs. The little bulbil seeds produced at the tops of the plants can be planted too but will take two years to produce a regular bulb.
You can source your garlic from a seed catalog or simply head to the farmer’s market to pick up a variety that you know grows well in your area. Garlic likes loose, well drained soil that is rich in nutrients. We prepare beds, add compost and make four deep rows in each bed. Divide the cloves from the bulb and plant about 6 inches apart with the root side going down and pointy part up. We cover them with 2-3 inches of soil and add a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw to mulch the beds. The mulchÂ helps insulate the beds over the winter plus gives weed control in spring.
The garlic will send up a few onion-like shoots in the fall, then die back and take off growing again in spring. Come June you will see the curly flower heads appearÂ – these can be snapped off so more energy is sent to bulb production. These garlic scapes are delicious in stir-fry or chopped like onion scallions, plus I use them as a quirky addition to flower bouquets. When about a third of the garlic leaves have turned brown in July, it is time to start pulling the bulbs out of the ground. I lay them in the sun to dry for a few days and then bundle the entire plants in groups of 8 or 10 to hang from the ceiling of an airy shed. When fully dry, the most beautiful bulbs get saved for the fall planting, and I’ll clean the rest and store them in mes
h onion bags in a cool closet for winter usage.
Garlic goes in just about everything we cook;Â we especially love the richness it gives soups and broths this time of year. We also make use of garlic’s antibiotic properties by mincing cloves to eat raw to help knock out sore throats, colds and other winter nasties. Garlic has a host of other wonderful health giving qualities, so as you enjoy the robust flavor you are taking your “medicine “at the same time. So consider adding garlic planting to your fall garden list -Â even if it’s just a few cloves in your flowerbed. Meanwhile, I’ll be heading out to plant my nearly 4,000 cloves. (I forgot to warn you that garlic growing can be addictive….)