Before We Start Growing Garlic Outdoors…
Over 5,000 years ago, according to paintings found in tombs, the Egyptians worshipped garlic…even making clay models of garlic bulbs for Tutankhamen’s tomb. They believed that garlic could cure several dozen illnesses such as fatigue, heart disease, and even tumors. The Egyptians were growing garlic outdoors, too, but, most of it was wild garlic.
Garlic was so precious that they even used it as currency.
But, believe it or not, Egyptians did not like cooking and eating it. They did, however, feed it to their pyramid-building slaves to increase their strength and stamina.
The ancient Hebrew writers called themselves “garlic eaters” before the days of Moses.
Ancient Romans and Greeks added a few uses for garlic in addition to the Egyptian remedies. They firmly trusted that it could repel scorpions, treat animal bites, and cure leprosy.
Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, used garlic to treat cancerous tumors, pneumonia, and digestive disorders. He also recommended it to women for improving their menstrual flow.
In concert with Egyptians…Buddhists, and some Hindus, were not “garlic eaters” either…regarding it more as a medicine to cure common diseases. Ancient Indians saw garlic as a powerful aphrodisiac and since it awakened passion, it was forbidden by monks.
The Middle Ages saw garlic hung across the entrance of homes or smeared on chimneys and keyholes to prevent evil spirits from getting inside…especially, vampires, demons, and werewolves.
In American colonial times, garlic cloves were used to treat smallpox, rheumatism, worms, and whooping cough.
Louis Pasteur spoke of garlic’s antiseptic properties and Albert Schweitzer used it for treating dysentery.
During both World Wars, garlic was used extensively too prevent gangrene. Russia used it to fight battlefield infections and called it “Russian penicillin.” (Garlic History – Wikipedia)
What Nutrients Are Actually in Garlic?
Being 59% water, 33% carbs, 6% protein, 2% fiber, and less than 1% fat, garlic contains manganese, selenium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, a variety of vitamins, thiamin, pantothenic acid…along with an active ingredient called allicin.
Now, allicin is the key element in garlic that gives it the ability to treat bacterial infections, as well as viral and fungal infections. (Allicin – Wikipedia) This means that a healthy daily portion of garlic can actually prevent the common cold! How about that?
So, since garlic contains just about every imaginable vitamin and mineral, and has natural infection fighting properties, I can see why throughout recorded time it has been used to treat just about every disease or disorder known to exist.
Garlic Is Found In Foods Around The Planet
Yessir! If garlic isn’t cooked in a plethora of different dishes, in a multitude of cultures, globally, it is used in its raw state for salads, dips, sauces, etc., or combined with water, honey, and, maybe tea, to create a refreshing medicinal drink.
And, tell me…who doesn’t love garlic bread…and garlic salt?
‘Nuff said about that!
Understanding Garlic Forms and Varieties
Did you know there are two different types of garlic? There is hardneck garlic and there is softneck garlic…which refers to the rigidity of the leaves/stem that grows out of the top of the garlic bulbs.
Softneck garlic, or artichoke garlic as it is sometimes called, is excellent for braiding because, the stems are soft and workable. Braiding is done so that many garlic bulbs can be hung to dry in the same group…about a dozen or so per set. Softneck garlic is more pungent garlic with many small cloves per bulb. They are typically grown and do well in areas with mild winters.
Hardneck garlic produces a long, flowering outer stem with a more rigid stem (scape) that comes up inside the outer stem. Since the scapes are stiff, they are difficult to braid…but, it can be done if the stems are softened in advance. Hardnecks have a milder flavor than softnecks and have fewer, but larger, cloves per bulb. Hardnecks are commonly grown in colder climates because they are much hardier.
Garlic typically matures in 90 days when planted in the spring, after the last frost. Fall planting will produce a garlic harvest usually in late spring or early summer the following season. The cloves of softneck and hardneck garlic are usually planted with the tops of the cloves buried 1 to 2 inches deep, spacing them about 4 inches apart, in rows a foot or two apart.
Then there is Elephant garlic, which is neither a softneck nor a hardneck. But, they produce gigantic bulbs with gargantuan cloves and can be grown just about anywhere. You will get 2 to 4 cloves per bulb. Planting a larger clove will result in a larger bulb at harvest. These bulbs have been known to reach a pound so, believe me when I say you will need to plant these at least 6 inches away from each other! Just like softneck and hardneck garlic, the tops of the cloves should be 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil in rows 1 to 2 feet apart.
Can Garlic, Purchased at a Grocery Store, be Planted?
You betcha! Most garlic purchased at the market is the Silverskin variety because of their long shelf life.
And, these bulbs will cost you a lot less than those special varieties purchased at the garden store! When planted alongside the garden store varieties, you will have a very hard time seeing the difference in the growing plants. And, unless you are a professional garlic connoisseur, you will be hard pressed to discern a difference in the garlicky flavor of your harvest…unless you compare it with the heat-producing Chinese Pink or Thai Fire varieties.
The trick is to only use “organic” garlic from a grocery store for planting. Regular garlic is sprayed with a chemical growth inhibitor which retards the growth of roots and sprouts in the produce section while waiting to be purchased.
A Bit of Not-So-Appetizing Garlic Trivia
Most of the world’s garlic is produced in China, where it is grown in untreated sewage…sometimes it is actually raw human sewage.
Before exporting their garlic, China’s farmers not only spray it with a growth inhibitor, made from either hormones or an unknown chemical…to stop additional root growth…they also bleach it with chlorine, or a mixture of sulfur and wood ash, to give it the recognizable white appearance you see when purchasing garlic in a grocery store. Additionally, they fumigate the garlic with methyl bromide to kill bugs and damaged plant matter. (Conventially Grown Garlic Contaminated With Chemicals – Natural News)
If your garlic is coming from China, you could be getting garlic that has been hanging around in a Chinese barn from last year’s crop! There is no guarantee that it is freshly grown the same year it arrives at your supermarket. That is how effective the chemical sprays are in prolonging shelf life! (Fresher and smellier – theage.com.au)
It’s almost like the story about the MacDonalds Happy Meal hamburger that would not decompose or rot even when kept in room temperature air for over 6 years!
Now, isn’t this enough to scare you into growing your own garlic?
Time to Plant
You are now going to learn how to grow garlic from a clove.
In the South
Plant softneck cloves in the early spring after the last frost for a late summer harvest. Plant softneck or hardneck cloves in the fall, 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost, for harvesting during the next year’s growing season…in the late spring or early summer.
In the North
Plant softneck cloves in the early spring after the last frost for an end-of-the-summer harvest. Plant hardneck cloves in the fall, 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost, for harvesting next growing season…in the late spring or early summer.
NOTE: Pick a location in full sun, 6 to 8 hours per day, where garlic or onions were NOT planted last year.
NOTE: Try not to remove the paper on the cloves. Without the paper, it will take longer for them to begin to root and grow their stems, if at all.
Growing Garlic Cloves is Easy!
- Till the soil so that the dirt is loose and free of stones and roots to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
- Keep rows one to two feet apart and run about a 4 inch deep trench down each row.
- Layer a couple inches of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture* in the trenches.
- Place garlic cloves, with paper still attached, hopefully, tips pointing up, and the fat bottoms pointing down.
- Space the softneck and hardneck cloves about 4 inches apart. Space Elephant garlic cloves about 6 inches apart.
- Cover the clove tips with an inch or two of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture*. Lightly firm the soil over the cloves. Now, you know how to grow Elephant garlic, too!
- Water gently but thoroughly, keeping the soil moist, but not soggy, for 2 to 3 weeks…then back off to an inch per week for the rest of their growing season. Planting in the spring will produce sprouts in 2 to 3 weeks. For fall planting you may not see sprouts until early spring in the next year’s growing season.
- It is preferable to lay soaker hoses on your garlic rows. It reduces the chances of plant disease resulting from overhead watering.
- After the sprouts appear, mulch around all of the garlic plants to control weeds and help retain moisture in the soil. Keep mulch a couple of inches away from the plant stem so the mulch doesn’t keep the stem too damp…creating an environment for disease. When weeding around the plants, be gentle and try not to disturb them. Just like onions, garlic has a very shallow root system and does not do well with too many weeds around them.
*Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture: I use a 5-gallon bucket with a 50/50 mixture of dirt and potting soil and a couple of tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer when putting seeds or seedling plants in the garden.
TIP: For hardneck garlic, when the scapes appear, pinch them off before they begin to flower and use them raw in salads, sauces, etc., or as cooking ingredients. They will add a mild, but refreshing garlic flavor.
TIP: If you want to know how to grow garlic indoors, just follow the basic planting steps above but, use at least a 2 foot or 3 foot diameter container and potting soil.
It’s Harvest Time
When the leaves/stems start to turn yellow, bend them down to encourage quicker yellowing and drying. Before doing so, feel the bulb to make sure that the cloves have formed.
After the tops appear to be fairly dry and mostly yellow, using a fork or small garden spade, dig up the garlic plants and let them dry in the sun for a few hours.
Then, move them to a sheltered, shady, well-ventilated area to dry out for about a month.
My gardening cohorts are split on how to prepare the garlic bulbs for drying. Newer gardeners cut the tops about an inch or two above the bulbs and put them in open-air wicker baskets…but, small clothes baskets will also work. Old-school gardeners make handmade, braided strings of the softneck garlic…or fashion the hardneck garlic in a braid-like string array…in both cases, putting about a dozen garlic bulbs per set.
For more on braiding garlic, see How to Braid Garlic – wikiHow.
NOTE: Using this air-dry storage technique will preserve your garlic harvest for 6 to 8 months!
Refrigerated garlic will last for about 5 to 7 days.
To preserve garlic long-term, consider these options: Freezing (~ 10 to 12 months), Canning in salt and vinegar (1 to 2+ years), Dehydrating (2+ years), or Freeze-drying (5+ years). Long-term storage is significantly shortened as the moisture and temperature rises in the storage area.
It is imperative to follow long-term preservations directions to the letter so you do not run the risk of introducing botulism. Botulism is a very potent toxin that could cause paralysis and death within a few days if not treated. Room temperature, lack of oxygen, moisture, and the low-acidity of garlic all contribute to the growth of the bacterium that causes botulism. So, be careful…be very careful!
Garlic is prone to the same diseases as onions, including powdery mildew and bulb rot. Remove the affected plant from the garden and dispose of it in the trash or burn it.
Onion thrips have been known to be a big problem for garlic. Cabbage loopers, cutworms, and wireworms can also cause a lot of damage.
There are plants that will repel these pests:
- Cabbage loopers – repelled by artemisias, catnip, dill, hyssop, nasturtiums, peppermint, rosemary, spearmint, and thyme.
- Cutworms – repelled by spiny amaranth and tansy.
- Onion thrips – repelled by basil.
- Wireworms – repelled by clover.
If the pests are out of control, you may need to resort to a quality insecticide to eliminate them.
NOTE: Good crop rotation is essential in controlling both plant diseases and pests.
Here Comes Farmer Jed Again!
Not long ago, I was looking for information on raising chickens. When I asked advice from my neighbor Jed, an old retired farmer, he immediately remembered a situation that happened to him one summer concerning his chickens.
Jed lived on a quiet gravel road way out in the country. But, one day the county came through and paved it. It wasn’t long before there were a lot more cars whizzing past his farm.
Ole’ Jed’s chickens were free-range. They went wherever they pleased…and they were used to crossing that road to eat some tasty vegetation on the other side.
Pretty soon some of the chickens were being run over by the speeding traffic…at the rate of several a day.
So, Jed called Sheriff Andy’s office, explaining how the cars were coming down his road too fast to avoid hitting his chickens…and, he asked the sheriff to do something about it!
Well, Andy called the county and they put up a big sign that read, “SLOW: SCHOOL CROSSING.”
Several days later, Jed called Sheriff Andy and told him that the school crossing sign had no effect…that the drivers were still zooming down his road and still running over his chickens! “Matter of fact,” Jed said, “The cars are actually coming by faster than before!”
So, Andy sent out the county workers to put up a new sign that stated, “SLOW: CHILDREN AT PLAY.”
And, believe it or not, the cars sped by even faster than they did with the “SLOW: SCHOOL CROSSING” sign!
Jed could see that the sheriff’s solutions were not helping so, after bugging him about it for a couple of weeks, he finally asked Andy if he could put up his own sign. Andy said, “If it solves your problem, then be my guest!”
Jed said he figured that Andy was getting tired of being bothered by him. That is probably why he relented so easily.
And, lo and behold…Jed did not call Andy back after putting up his own sign. After a few weeks, Andy was curious as to what happened so he called Jed and asked him how his problem was with those drivers. “Did you put up your sign?” Andy asked.
Jed told him, “Yessir, sheriff! And, not one chicken has been killed since I put up that sign! Gotta go, now…I’m pretty busy. Talk to you later.”
Well, Sheriff Andy was even more curious so, he decided to drive out to Jed’s farm and see Jed’s sign. If his sign really was working, it could be something the county could use in other areas to slow down drivers.
When Andy got to Jed’s farm, he saw a big 4 foot by 8 foot plywood sign painted white…and in huge black letters were the words,
SLOW: NUDIST COLONY
Ole’ Jed really knew how to slow things down!
Look for more Farmer Jed stories at the bottom of some other pages throughout The Perfect Vegetable Garden!
Are you growing garlic this year? Does this article spur you into giving it a try? Talk to me in the comments section or shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.