This post was originally published on September 21, 2010.
There are a number of cool weather crops, like kale or cauliflower, that grow during our normally mild Pacific Northwest winters (more cool season planting ideas), but my heart belongs to garlic. You plant it in early fall (September/October), harvest it in mid-summer (July), and do very little in between. If you are looking to ease into this green thumb stuff, garlic is a great way to do it.
I planted mine this week. If you are interested in growing your own, here are a few simple steps & tips:
:: Buy full heads of garlic. I have heard that you want to buy local garlic so you have a guarantee it grows in your climate. Local farmers markets or produce vendors are your best bet. To be honest, my WinCo garlic grew just as well as my local farmers market garlic, but hey, why risk it? I picked up a couple heads of garlic from New Seasons this year.
:: Pop off the largest individual cloves. Leave them wrapped in their little papery coats. You should have about a 6-10 of the big outer cloves to plant from each full head of garlic. Larger cloves will produce larger heads; use the smaller cloves in the kitchen. I usually plant 3-4 heads of garlic for a few bucks.
:: Plant each garlic clove 6″ apart, covered with approximately 1-2″ of soil. Plant in an area of full sun with well-drained soil. I just loosen up the soil in one end of my raised bed and push the cloves in, papery end up, with my finger. It takes a whopping five minutes to plant a few heads of garlic.
I’ve read that the harder your area freezes, the deeper you want to plant the garlic cloves. If you live in a hard freeze area, you can plant them 3-4″ deep. If you’re planting elephant garlic, those big guys can go down even deeper.
:: Leave them alone. Garlic is a wonderfully low-maintenance crop. (This photo was taken in May, showing 8 months of growth.) The stalks will push through the soil in the next several weeks. Then those little green shoots will go dormant once the cold weather hits. They will stop growing and go into a winter hibernation. Even if the weather gets crazy, they should be just fine.
I live in the Willamette Valley where we generally have pretty mild winters. However, three years ago we had one for the history books. Remember? Arctic Blast ’08? My raised beds were covered in deep snowy blankets. I thought my garlic was toast. However, the snow melted and my resilient little garlic plants were still doing great.
:: Harvest and store the garlic. Around the middle of July, the stalks will be around three feet tall. The tops will start to die back and may go to seed, telling you the plant is done growing and it’s time to pick. Simply pull each head out of the ground. If your soil has become packed down, loosen the soil around the garlic heads first.
It’s like magic; that little clove you started with will now be a full head of garlic. I lay the stalks on my outdoor table and let them dry out a bit for a couple of days. Don’t rinse them with water, as the extra moisture can cause the heads to rot.
Then I cut off the green ends, brush off the dirt and one papery layer, cut off part of the roots, and stick them in a bowl or mesh bag. You could also leave the ends on, gather 3 stalks together and braid them. Hang the braided garlic in a cool, dry place like your basement or garage and cut off the heads as needed.
Are you planning to plant garlic this year? What other cool weather crops do you put in the ground now?
For everything you ever wanted to know about garlic, check out The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks by Ted Jordan Meredith. I don’t consider myself a serious cook, as I actually own and use a garlic press (Gasp! I know.), but I will be adding this book to my cookbook collection anyway.
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