|This is not the "stinking rose" but a delightfully fragrant Souvenir de Mal Maison still in bloom in my garden.|
Garlic is incredibly versatile and should be considered a vegetable rather than simply a seasoning. It possesses great nutritional value and is a valuable medicine. Raw garlic is considered a "prebiotic," a food that sets up favorable conditions for "good" bacteria in your gut that is so essential to proper digestion and health. Garlic also serves as an anti-microbial and and be used internally or topically to treat pathogens. It sulpherous compounds, which give it its smell, provide some of its microbe-fighting qualities. Garlic also gets kudos for benefitting the heart and circulatory system, as well as the respiratory system.
With all of its versatility and the fact that garlic grown by organic methods has more nutrition and medicinal quality than other garlic (due to the greater number of soil microbes in organically managed gardens) you would think I'd ALWAYS plant it.
However, last year I managed to go into winter without doing so. The crop planted the previous fall was small because I did not save much for seed from the previous year. Last year's small crop was eaten very quickly and left none to save for seed. I could not force myself to sit down and order seed garlic or any other fall-planted bulbs last fall. I missed not having my own garlic, so I made a point of getting seed garlic this year.
Fortunately, a neighbor who grows garlic to sell was at another neighbor's place during a recent farm tour, and had his garlic and other items for sale. So for $1 a bulb I got lovely locally grown garlic to plant (or eat, if I'd wanted. Maybe I should have gotten more.) While researching garlic yesterday I saw seed garlic selling for about $13 for just two bulbs. I've seen some organic seed garlic sold for as much as $25 a pound. The difference between seed garlic and what you buy to eat is that the seed garlic probably has some disease-free certification process to go through and it's definitely not irradiated, as much of the grocery store garlic is. However, if you can find locally grown garlic at the grocery store or farmers market, you certainly could try planting that.
The varieties my neighbor had for sale were Polish White, Tochliavri (aka Red Toch) and Lorz Italian. All are artichoke types, which are soft neck varieties with the potential to produce up to 20 cloves per bulb. The down side of that number of bulbs is that you frequently find numerous small cloves in the center of the many large cloves. Garlic comes in several types and the artichoke type is the favorite among commercial growers because it grows so easily and adapts to a variety of conditions.
Soft neck garlic can best be defined by what it is not, hard neck garlic, which produces a hard central flower stalk topped by the "flower" head, which in its immature, unopened stage is called a scape. Scapes can be used to flavor numerous dishes -- stir fry, pesto, pretty much anything you use garlic for. Soft neck varieties tend to keep longer than hard neck varieties, but the hard necks typically produce much larger cloves with fewer to each head.
When planting garlic (4-6 inches apart, more for larger bulbs), choose the larger cloves, which will produce larger heads. You can plant the small cloves closely together and in the spring use them as fresh garlic, or "cutting" garlic, snipping off the tops for use like chives.
Keep your garlic weed-free and water during extended dry periods. Foliar feeding with fish emulsion in April and May will help your garlic grow, although I've never done this. If scapes appear, cut them off, as they will reduce the bulb size by using energy that could go into bulb production. Use the scapes in any dish you would use garlic.
Next post I will cover the varieties I will plant this year.