By Madeline Guzman, newsletter coordinator from the Rockville, Maryland Tuv Ha’Aretz site
The best time to plant garlic is after the first frost date, this translating into mid-October in Maryland and much of the Northern regions of the country, which is coming up soon! Garlic is part of the allium genus (the onion plant family) which also includes scallions, chives, onions, shallots, and leeks. All of these are perennial bulbous plants which contain cysteine sulfoxide,a chemical which gives these plants their distinctive taste and odors There are about 1,250 species of this genus, making it one of the largest plant genera in the world!
Garlic is very easy to grow. It would make the perfect vegetable for the first-time vegetable gardener. You may begin with just one bulb of garlic. Obtain it from a farmers market, a seed company, your CSA farmers, or even a garlic festival. Do not use garlic from the grocery store, as those bulbs are usually imported and may harbor disease. Begin by dividing the garlic bulb into cloves. Each clove, with its thin, white, papery skin, will be a seed for a new garlic bulb. Allow the cloves to dry overnight before planting. Choose a garden site that is sunny, but not too damp. Prepare your garden by loosening the soil and adding a scoopful of compost, working the compost into the rest of the soil with your shovel. Do not use any cloves that appear damaged. Plant each clove one inch deep and 4 inches apart. Each bulb of garlic usually contains about 20 cloves. You can plant as many of these as you want, and use the rest for cooking. It might be best to label the garden spot so you do not confuse the long leaves that will emerge as weeds (a sad experience I had last year within over-zealous garden helper in my own flower garden).
After planting, firm up the soil around each clove. Cover all with a layer of mulch or straw. Mulching the ground will prevent weeds from sprouting around each plant and will protect each clove from the biting cold of winter. The mulch does not have to be removed in order for the plants to emerge.
Your garlic bulbs will be nearing harvest time when you see the leaves withering and turning yellow (if you are in the northeast, this won’t be until about July). When the leaves appear almost completely dry, gently dig up each bulb without removing the dead leaves. Allow the bulbs to completely dry by spreading them individually on a screen or newspaper. When dry, cut off the leaves and stems to within an inch of the bulb. Store the bulbs either in a cool area of your home (the cooler, the better) or in your refrigerator. Never store garlic in plastic bags which does not allow the living bulb to “breathe”.
Your garlic is now ready to use. Once you harvest your own garlic, you’ll be so proud of having grown a self-sustaining (a word we love) vegetable. If you grow too many, simply bring them in to share with other CSA members or friends at work. Happy gardening!