Garlic has been used for centuries by people around the world for cooking. It’s used to accent many dishes and is easy for gardeners to grow at home. Here are some great tips on growing and storing garlic.
Growing and Storing Garlic
Allium sativum, commonly called garlic, is a member of the lily family and a close relative of the onion, allium cepa. Both are part of the family of pungent vegetables known as alliums that also includes leeks and shallots.
Garlic’s Worldwide Appeal
Garlic is used in cooking recipes by cultures around the world, with only a few exceptions. The Japanese almost never use garlic in cooking while people in England and Scandinavia use chives as a substitute.
Garlic’s popularity in cooking has increased over the years in the United States, with consumption tripling during the 1990s. It is a versatile vegetable used as a flavouring in many food recipes, including salads, soups, stews, and sauces. Garlic is easy to grow at home and takes minimal attention until it is ready to harvest.
In areas that are prone to hard, early winters, garlic should be planted around early-Autumn so the plants can establish a good root system before the first freeze. In areas where there are no hard winters, garlic can be planted in early to mid-Autumn which means in the warmer climates of Australia, it is best to plant in March or early April. Garlic bulbs purchased from nurseries are better than planting garlic bought from supermarkets.
Garlic should be planted in a sunny position for optimal growth; in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter, or soil that has been treated with a general-purpose fertiliser. The cloves need to be separated, with the largest ones planted into moist soil about 15 cm apart. Garlic cloves should be pushed down into the soil with the pointy end up, until they sit just below the surface. They also need to be planted in an area where it or its relatives were not planted the previous year.
Watering and Feeding Garlic Beds
Garlic doesn’t need water until the cloves have germinated, which is usually around two weeks after planting. From then on, water then just enough to keep the soil moist, without saturating the plants. Garlic goes dormant in the winter after the first freeze and begins growing in the spring. Begin watering again in the spring and keep the ground moist.
Three weeks after the garlic plants begin sprouting, apply additional fertiliser. Mulching helps to keep the weeds away and the soil moist.
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Harvesting And Storing Garlic
Garlic can take around seven to eight months to grow. Signs that show that garlic is ready to be harvested include the green leaves turning brown and the flower stems beginning to soften, though they will stay green. If you are unsure, gently remove some of the soil around one of the bulbs. If the clove ridges are clearly defined, and the garlic bulbs are of a good size, then they are ready to harvest. If you happen to leave harvesting too long and the leaves have died back completely, the bulbs may have started to split. If this happens, they are still okay to eat, they just won’t be able to be stored for any length of time.
Gently harvest the garlic from the ground either by gently pulling it out or, if it is sitting deeper in the ground, slide a garden fork underneath the bulb and carefully lift out the plant.
Once the garlic has been harvested from the ground, in cool climates it can be dried on wire mesh screens in a warm, well-ventilated area. Trim off dried leaves one inch from the top of the garlic clove and brush away any soil from the clove. In hotter climates, like that in many parts of Australia, dry them under cover, in areas that don’t get too hot. Dried garlic can be stored for six or seven months in burlap sacks or mesh bags. An alternate method of drying garlic is done by braiding the foliage together immediately after harvest and hanging the braids in a cool, dry location. Dried, cured garlic will keep for six to seven months.
Once the bulbs are cured, check for disease, damage or bruising and remove the bulbs that show any signs of these. If the damage is minor, you can eat them, but they can’t be stored. Choose the healthiest bulbs that you want to replant next time and put them aside so they won’t get eaten by mistake. Unless storing plaited or hung, the leaves and stems can be cut off to about 2cm from the bulb and cut off the roots leaving only 1 cm attached. They can be stored in shallow cardboard boxes, wooden slatted boxes, trays or net slings, just as long they have good air circulation around each of the bulbs. Check weekly and remove any that become bad.
With its many uses in recipes and as a natural way to promote better health, it is easy to see why garlic has been such a favourite throughout the ages. With a little work and these tips on growing and storing garlic, anyone can enjoy the benefits of this delicious and healthy vegetable in their own garden.