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Growing Great Garlic
by Arzeena Hamir
Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to plant yet by the end of the summer, most gardeners are so tired that they often don't bother to plant this gourmet delight.

In the garden, garlic makes a wonderful companion crop and tends to repel most bugs. Planted among members of the cabbage family, it helps repel imported cabbageworm. Many gardeners have also found using sprays made from garlic to be very effective in helping to control plant diseases such as powdery mildew, bean anthracnose, and brown rot in almonds, apricots and peaches.

Garden Preparation

Garlic prefers well-drained, moderately-fertile soil in a sunny spot of the garden. Raised beds are ideal so that water drains quickly and the soil warms earlier in the springtime. If the soil is too fertile, you will end up with lush leaf growth and smaller bulbs.

Before planting, loosen the soil with a rake or hoe. You may want to amend the soil with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus (the middle number) like bone meal or rock phosphate.

Planting

Just before planting, break apart each bulb of garlic into its individual cloves, trying to keep as much skin on the cloves as possible. Next, simply poke your finger into the soil until about your third knuckle (2 inches), drop the clove in pointy side up, cover the hole, and pat firmly. Space the next garlic 5 inches further down the row. Each row of garlic should be about 15-18 inches apart. After planting, water the buried cloves well.

To form cloves, garlic must be exposed to temperatures below 41 F (5 C). Thus, if planted too late in the spring, garlic will tend to form large onion-like bulbs instead of individual cloves. In the North, garlic is normally planted in October so that it can establish roots before winter and really take of in the spring. Southern gardeners can only plant garlic if they know the temperature will dip low enough. Often, they can wait until November or December to plant.

Growing & Harvesting

In springtime, the green tips will start to emerge and the garlic should be side-dressed with fertilizer again by placing the fertilizer 2 inches away from the row and lightly scratching it into the soil. During the growing season, keep garlic keep a mulch of grass clippings or similar material around the garlic to help conserve water and suppress weeds.

When the tops turn yellow in early summer, stop watering. Allow the bulbs to cure in the soil for 2 weeks and then harvest the garlic by pulling the whole plant out of the soil and tying the leaves together. Allow the bulbs to dry on a rack in a warm, dry spot.

Garlic types

Silverskin - This type of garlic is the one most often seen in grocery stores. As the name implies, the skins are silvery-white and the taste is mild & garlicky. Silverskin garlic, often referred to as soft-neck garlic, stores incredibly well and is the type used for making garlic braids.

Rocambole - Also known as serpent garlic, rocambole is classified as a hard-neck. During the growing season, this type of garlic will form flower heads which need to be cut off so they do not drain the resources of the bulb. Most rocambole-types have a very pungent, almost hot flavour and are often identified by the purplish tinge to their skin. Although this is a much more gourmet garlic, it does not store well, usually just a couple of months.

Elephant - The cloves of this garlic can weigh an ounce and will usually give up to 3 tablespoons of chopped garlic. Elephant garlic is actually a member of the leek family and thus, has a much milder taste. If your growing conditions are cool & damp, this is the garlic to choose. The bulbs of elephant garlic should be spaced farther apart, usually 10 inches, to give the plants enough room to grow.

Sources of bulbs

The best source of bulbs would be local growers who sell seed garlic at local markets. These varieties are well adapted to your growing conditions.

A second best, or to get more variety, try mail-order catalogues such as Territorial Seeds or Garden City Seeds. The best selection I've seen by far, however, is Salt Spring Seeds. Dan Jason, the owner, keeps about 40 different varieties.

If it's getting late, as a last resort, I would buy organic garlic from a health food store and plant it. Normal garlic is often sprayed with sprouting inhibitors which prevent the cloves from sprouting in the store. No good if you actually want them to sprout for you in the garden.

Some great resources include:

Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron L. England - an in-depth look at the history of garlic evolution and a how-to guide on planting, growing, and harvesting garlic.

On the web:
http://www.garlicpage.com
The Garlic Page has great recipes
www.mostlygarlic.com
Mostly Garlic Magazine looks like a must-have for garlic lovers.

Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist & garden writer based in Vancouver, BC.
When she's not planting peas or harvesting zucchini, she runs Terra Viva Organics -www.tvorganics.com - supplying home gardeners with ladybugs, certified organic seed, and natural fertilizers.

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