Garlic has very deep roots in history. In ancient Egypt, it was apparently a popular medicine and some of the art in the pyramids show garlic. The Chinese are said to have been eating garlic for 6,000 years and possibly even earlier.
Most vegetables need to be watered all through their growing season. But garlic is one crop which can handle intermittent drying out through May and can do without water altogether by the time July starts.
Garlic is very hardy and pests dislike it – even the voles which may spend winter turning fall-planted shallots into rows of holes. Shallots grown in containers escape this problem.
October is the perfect month to plant garlic but there’s no huge problem planting through winter. Later planting, though, means slower sprouting and cloves are often smaller.
The soil garlic loves includes compost or fish fertilizer or organic fertilizer. Mulching deters weeds and holds on to moisture even in dry spells. This covering can be mushroom manure, compost or grass clippings.
For planting, the garlic clusters are broken apart and each clove planted with the point up. There are many different opinions on spacing, but I’ve planted five inches apart and still harvested large cloves of hardneck garlic.
When the first garlic shoots start emerging is the time that many in-ground gardeners notice one or two renegade shoots that escaped harvesting. If you leave them in place, each individual clove in each cluster makes make a cluster of its own. Smaller, but quite eatable.
The next time garlic needs attention is when it sprouts stalks in late spring and produces what look like large buds. These are garlic scapes and they need to be removed or the cloves will be smaller. They’re very tasty sliced into stir-fries or soup.
By July, (or earlier if we have another long drought) garlic leaves start browning at the ends and sometime in August will have died right back. It’s best to harvest them in a sunny spell because garlic cures much better in sun.
If you wait too long to harvest them the stalks shrivel up and lose contact with the clusters. At that point some clusters escape harvesting entirely. You’ll find their newly sprouted shoots later in late fall or spring.
Garlic lasts longer if you can store it in a cool spot. Hard-neck garlic is very difficult to braid and is better stored in a mesh bag with the roots and stem cut short. Mesh fruit bags can be re-used for this.
Hardneck garlic doesn’t keep quite as well as soft-neck garlic but hard-neck has much larger cloves. Softneck is easier to braid.
But the hardneck garlic is by far my favourite and is the variety most widely sold. Varieties abound. ‘Music’, ‘Red Russian,’ ‘Persian Star,’ and ‘Fish Lake #3’ are all excellent, but there are exuberant descriptions of countless other garlic kinds.
Another interesting variety is ‘Elephant Garlic’ which is really a kind of leek). It has very large, long-storing cloves. It’s said these can weigh up to one pound. It’s a perennial but can apparently harbour diseases unless you dig it up every year and replant a few cloves.