How to grow your own Garlic
Hailed as one of nature’s most powerful medicines since the 25th century BC, garlic is super easy to grow through the winter. There is a reason it was consumed by the ancient Egyptians while the pyramids were being constructed and then again by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers- it has tremendous healing power.
How to Grow It
When gaging the level of difficulty for garlic, it is actually easy to grow. Not suited for growing in containers, although it can be done, it’s most ideal in the ground or in deep raised beds. Cloves can be planted from September to the end of November (depending on the timing of the first severe frost). There is a brief window at the beginning of March when you can plant for a fall harvest, but in westcoast garlic performs better if overwintered. Softneck garlic is easy to grow in mild climates (hardneck varieties for areas where winters are severe), it produces smaller, more abundant cloves per head, ideal for storing.
You need to start with rich, well drained soil. Dig well, add compost (lots of it if your soil is heavy) and do not compact it by stepping on it.
Lime the soil several weeks before planting if the pH is lower than 6.0.To sow cloves: make sure they are not skinned, set each one pointed end up, 4-6” apart, with the tip of the clove atleast 1-2” deep.
Use even deeper planting if there is vulnerability to rain or frost exposure, and shallower planting if using mulch or planting into heavy soil. Also remember the largest cloves will create the largest bulbs. When it comes to growing, you will need to fertilize (make the soil more fertile by adding suitable organic substances to it such as feed, mulch, compost, or manure) when spring growth starts.
Water as needed (My Green Space’s app will remind you!) and keep the surroundings weeded. A key is to cut the flower stalks to keep energy in the bulb (those stalks make an excellent addition to stirfry by the way!). By this time if individual cloves haven’t formed, you can either eat the clove or replant and it will bulb next year.
Here’s the best part, harvesting: you’ll know they are ready when the tops begin to dry. To gage dryness, it is either that 75% of the plant has dried up or each is down to 6 green leaves. That is when you can pull them out and let them air-dry like onions. We suggest tying the stems together to form a bunch and hanging them. Storage is the most important part!
You want to make sure the flavour and texture does not deteriorate so you must store in a cool, yet relatively warm and dry environment. This encourages the cloves to stay dormant, moisture and heat will provoke sprouting.
Many growers get hit with White Rot that causes black spots and decay on the bulbs. Unfortunately, it is easily spread in the infected soil as well as water, thus it becomes very persistent in the soil. A solution is flooding the bed for 4 weeks in the spring, this may kill it.
The best way to avoid it is not to leave decaying alliums (bulbous plants) in the ground, also using a very strict 4-year crop rotation. Another issue for garlic could be Bolting (when a plant goes quickly, from producing the desired leaves to throwing up a stalk and mostly producing flowers and seeds). Bolting is undesirable because it diverts energy that could be utilized for enlarging the bulbs.
If plants do start to bolt, you can cut off the flower stalks as they appear, not allowing them to flower. Some suggest that bulbs that had first bolted, store better (even though they are smaller). Again, do not throw the flower stalks away, eat them! In Asia they are highly prized as food, they even grow special varieties to produce them. Of course there is a pest the greatly enjoys garlic…Gophers love Garlic!
If given the chance they will eat it plant by plant, right down the row. The only resolve is pest proofing your bed, especially underneath. This is where deep raised garden beds are ideal.
The Medicinal Power of Garlic
On a more scientific level, garlic is essential in naturally treating conditions linked to the heart and blood, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease/attack, and hardening of the arteries. Believe it or not science is catching up and many of garlic’s uses are now becoming supported by scientific research. Cancer is another disease that many have battled and conquered with the supplement of fresh garlic into their daily diet. The types of cancers range from colon, rectal, stomach, breast, lung and especially prostate and bladder cancer.
Garlic is also used for supporting and building the immune system, it can be as beneficial as preventing tick bites, and preventing and treating bacterial and fungal infections. It can help with diabetes, osteoarthritis, even hay fever, traveler’s diarrhea, high blood pressure late in pregnancy, along with the cold and flu. Garlic tea anyone? It offers a natural way to treat of fever, coughs, headache, stomach ache, sinus congestion, gout, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, asthma, bronchitis, shortness of breath, low blood pressure and sugar, high blood sugar, and snakebites.
Some people use it as an aid in fighting stress and fatigue, and maintaining healthy liver function. Garlic can be used an ointment as long as you don’t mind the smell, it’s oil can be applied to the skin to treat warts, and corns but scientifically the effectiveness is still uncertain. There is some evidence validating the topical use of garlic for fungal infections like ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot. Some scientists have suggested that garlic might have a role in preventing food poisoning. There is some evidence that fresh garlic, but not aged garlic, can kill certain bacteria such as E. coli, antibiotic-resistant Staph infections, and Salmonella in the laboratory. Garlic is powerful to say the least!
How it Works and How to Prepare It
There is a lot of variation among garlic products sold for medicinal purposes, thus using a fresh organic source can guarantee the amount of allicin, the active ingredient and the source of garlic’s distinctive odor. But it’s important to note the dependency on the method of preparation. Allicin is unstable, and can quickly change into a different chemical. Aging garlic to make it odorless can be detrimental in reducing the amount of allicin which then compromises the effectiveness of the product. Methods that involve crushing the fresh clove release more allicin.
Why Not Grow Your Own
One of the most universally accepted culinary ingredients, garlic is appreciated around the world for its pungent flavor and its incredible versatility. Grown commercially worldwide, China is where over 12 million tons are produced annually. But imported garlic has no where near the nutrition, freshness and flavor as that from your own windowsill, patio or yard. However it is eaten, garlic is high in protein, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus to name just a few beneficial nutrients. It can be consumed raw, cooked, preserved in oil, wine, or vinegar, and it is a foundational ingredient for sauces/dips which can then be kept fresh for days in refrigeration.
Dried garlic can also be powdered and kept in an airtight container for up to a year or more. If substituting powdered garlic for fresh, 1/8 teaspoon equals 1 fresh clove. The odour of garlic may be the reason it was held in such high regard in central European folklore to ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. To this day it really is used for this purpose, hung in the dwellings or places in need of protection, or rubbed around windows, chimneys, and keyholes.
Interestingly, garlic festivals are popular across Canada and worldwide. The South Caribou Garlic Festival has been held in 100 Mile House, BC since 1999. Late August has a judged garlic cook-off, with live music, a craft fair, and more garlic madness.
Grow your own food. In any space. No experience required.
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