MY FIRST ATTEMPT TO GROW GARLIC: THE LATE & LAME WAY I read somewhere - FarmGirl, perhaps? - that it is simple to grow garlic, just stick it in the ground and a few months later, harvest it. But thanks to perennial, ahem, garden procrastination, the garlic got into the ground late. I missed the fall planting, suddenly it was late winter, okay yes it was really early spring. (We plant nearly everything else in the spring, why not garlic?)
Standing next to the herb garden ready to plant, I wondered, Should I plant the cloves or the head? Dumb, dumb! Rather than look it up or give it any real thought or even ask a Smart Fifth Grader, I stuck the head into the ground and hoped for the best.
MY SECOND ATTEMPT TO GROW GARLIC: THE LAZY WAY Late last fall with snow about to fly, I stuck a few cloves (yes, that's right, you plant the cloves!) into a big pot on the patio, figuring that the garlic plants would provide 'winter green' (they don't) and could be harvested after the frost date to free up the pot as soon as summer annuals can be safely planted (wrong again).
WHEN TO PLANT GARLIC, THE RIGHT WAY Then I started to work with One Who Knows Her Garlic. Aha! She shared the garlic grower's calendar: in eastern Missouri (Zone 6), we plant garlic on Columbus Day (mid October), we cut off garlic 'scapes' on Memorial Day (late May), and we harvest garlic on the 4th of July - each give or take a couple of weeks, depending on Mother Nature's moods.
THE SCAPES A few weeks ago, I snipped off the scapes -- those are tall graceful curvy stems with pretty little white heads that emerge quite suddenly from the plant, you'll know when it happens! With the scapes gone, the plant will put its energy into the bulb. I also dug up a single 'head' to gauge its progress - it was small like a scallion and didn't even smell like garlic. This, I've learned, is 'green garlic' or young garlic; the garlic bulb is undeveloped and is prized in some culinary circles.
THE HARVEST With Independence Day looming, I harvested the garlic crop - and there they were, real heads of garlic with real garlic smell! I did feel so proud.
THE REALITY And then I saw the huge heads of garlic - ones the size of a fist - that emerge from the garden of the One Who Knows Her Garlic. And they were so clean! You must wash the heads, I surmised. No! she said with horror. Just peel back the outside layer and cut off the roots.
So will I plant garlic again? Sure! It was a kick. But I won't plant it in a flower pot, at least not one where I want flowers at the same time. The petunias planted in the same pot back in May haven't thrived, plus coaxing the rooted garlic out of the pot tore up the flowers' roots.
BUT WAIT Is fresh garlic treated differently than supermarket garlic? Does it deserve special treatment? I turned to the One Who Knows Her Garlic for the answer. "Most people have never tasted freshly dug garlic -- the difference is as dramatic as a freshly picked vine-ripened tomato compared to a tasteless commercial tomato. The papery garlic in the supermarket was harvested last July and kept in storage. Fresh garlic is juicy, not dry. Use fresh garlic the same as you normally do: eat it raw, cooked, roasted, minced, or whole -- fresh garlic is delicious any way it is prepared. But do know that yes, a little fresh garlic goes a long way."
SO HERE'S THE RIGHT WAY, IN SHORT, TO GROW GARLIC IN YOUR OWN GARDEN. To grow your own garlic, plant cloves in the fall, not the spring. They'll pop out of the ground in late spring. When the tall scapes appear later in the spring, snip them off right away.. A month or more later, pull a test garlic out of the dirt to see if it's ready for harvest. If it is, carefully dig up the heads. Wipe clean the heads with a paper towel (a very thin papery layer will come off), cut off the roots, store in a dry dark spot. Cook/eat as normal but use less until you understand its potency.
ME I'M OFF TO COOK With any luck, I'll have better success cooking with garlic. Roasted Garlic, perhaps?
BUT WAIT! HOLD THE PIXEL PRESSES! So up until last night, this post was all about 'how' to grow garlic, ignoring the question of 'why'. This week, the One Who Knows Her Garlic lectured me in very polite fashion about how garlic from the jar just isn't up to snuff. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, amused since sure, I chop and mince and slice and dice my own garlic cloves for special dishes. But weeknights? The stuff from the jar is good enough. But I have to tell you people, I'm converted. I get it!! I know the difference!! I taste the difference!!! I made my every-day salad dressing last night with a clove of pink-ish garlic straight from my garden (see? even my small heads clean up really pretty!) and it was something completely totally absolutely different, not only from my jars of garlic but also from the garlic from the store. Fresh garlic is something special, worth finding a couple of square feet of dirt for your own few cloves. I'll remind us all when it's planting time again in the fall. But in the mean time, the farmers markets should be full of fresh garlic: do get some!
How to eat more vegetables? A Veggie Venture is the home of Veggie Evangelist Alanna Kellogg and the best source of free vegetable recipes with 700+ quick and easy favorite vegetable recipes, the Alphabet of Vegetables, Weight Watchers low-point recipes and microwave vegetable recipes.