October is garlic-planting time in Ohio. You may be surprised at just how easy it is to grow your own year’s supply of organic garlic. It’s virtually pest free, not at all fussy, and best of all- the deer don’t eat it! All garlic asks for is some fertile, well-drained soil that gets good sun. To make my planting bed at home last year, I just tilled up some of my heavy clay soil and added generous amounts of compost and leaf mulch. Each clove in a head gets planted individually. I place the cloves about thumb-depth and 6 inches away from other cloves in the soil. Mulch your planted cloves with fallen leaves (no shortage of those in October, right?) and forget about them until next spring.
When the first thawing days of the season arrive, you’ll welcome the sight of the intrepid green leaves of your garlic plant pushing up out of the ground. They’ll grow rapidly, and the leaves are quite pretty. You could even get creative and landscape with garlic around a lamppost or as a feature in a border or flower garden. The pungent oils in garlic repel most pests (including deer), so companion planting with garlic may help to reduce damage to your other garden plants. In late spring, the flower heads, called scapes, will emerge. These need to be trimmed off to ensure the plant’s energy remains in bulb formation, not the production of a flower and seeds. But there’s no waste, here: garlic scapes are delicious in their own right! Try them in a stir-fry or chopped into a spring soup.
Scapes are an added bonus to growing bulb garlic
In mid to late summer, your garlic will be ready to harvest. Pull too early and your bulbs won’t store well. Pull too late and the cloves will start to wither and dry out. A good rule of thumb is that when roughly half of the leaves turn brown, it’s time to pull the bulb. Brush off any soil clinging to the bulb, but do not wash them in water. The goal is to cure and dry the outer skin of the bulb for good storage. To do this, braid or bunch the leaves of the garlic into small groups of 6-12 bulbs. Hang your garlic in a warm, well-ventilated spot for about four weeks. Then store bulbs in a cool, dry area. For me, I hang my garlic in my garage. It cures in the warmth of the late summer, then stays in cold storage all winter long without my ever having to move it.
Bulbs can be stored in bunches...
Or you can get creative and store your bulbs as art!
You’ll have the best luck growing garlic if you buy “seed garlic,” which are high-quality bulbs that aren’t sprayed with the chemical fungicides and growth inhibitors most supermarket garlic is covered in. There are many varieties of garlic available, and like a fine wine or cheese are chosen for their subtleties of flavor. My favorite is “Music” because of its long storage life (up to six months!) While you will initially invest more by buying seed garlic, you will ultimately be able to save your own best bulbs for planting the following year. It makes sense to start with the best stock! You can find seed garlic online or buy it from local farmers.
Garlic plants add height, interest and natural pest control to your garden
I harvested 75 bulbs of garlic this summer at my house with the most minimal effort I’ve ever spent in the garden. Try planting a few cloves yourself this fall and enjoy the easy rewards of your own fresh, healthful garlic!
"Allium sativum - Garlic - 01" by User:Nino Barbieri - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allium_sativum_-_Garlic_-_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Allium_sativum_-_Garlic_-_01.jpg
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