Hartley Magazine

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I began growing garlic many years ago

I began growing garlic many years ago; I’ve even won a blue ribbon for it at the county fair. Those were the days when I had an enormous vegetable garden and unlimited sunlight; now that my yard is smaller, and shadier too, I still make space for it. But as an adaptation to my new environment, rows of garlic line the driveway, along with shallots and raised beds of onions. Those locations have some of the best unfettered sunlight in our new yard; they also broadcast the right kind of message to the marauding deer that frequent our new neighborhood. The vegetable garden is protected by an eight-foot fence, but why waste that precious space on crops that deer take no interest in? Take note, neither do bunnies, nor woodchucks.

At first, I tried both soft-neck and stiff-neck varieties. The stiff-necks grew best, and I’m not a fan of braiding anyway, so these days that’s all I grow. With recent enthusiasm about garlic-growing, and the availability of heirlooms from around the globe, that still leaves quite a few choices. My favorite is ‘Rumanian Red’ ; my paternal grandmother came from Rumania, so this seems fitting. It forms large flavorful cloves with a maroon blush on the wrapper—hence the name. It’s an excellent keeper; but our household eats enough garlic that storage is not an issue.

Northeastern gardeners should plant garlic in the fall—when most suppliers will ship. I have gardened in zones 4B through 6, and I usually plant in mid-October. Prepare the soil, adding compost if you have it. Separate cloves, and set aside for the kitchen any that have unwrapped. Rows should be at least one foot apart—this enables hoeing between them—and cloves spaced 6” apart. Plant 2” deep.

In the spring, keep weeded, and water if there isn’t rain. Garlic responds dramatically to manure tea, but organic fertilizers, like Plant-Tone, work well too.

When flower scapes form, trim these – ideally before they’ve completed a full spiral. At this stage, they’re tender enough to eat, and have not depleted much of the plant’s energy. When garlic leaves start turning brown and yellow—usually mid-July—it’s time to harvest your crop; a garden fork is useful for this. I’ve read that you shouldn’t wet garlic once it’s ripe, but I always wash mine before laying it to dry. I trim the roots—where soil clings—and remove some wrapper if necessary. I lay the entire plant in a cool, dark location—a garage with window or doors that can be opened is ideal. It cures for three weeks to a month. Then I trim the stems and move my garlic into the kitchen.