by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Garlic, a member of the onion family, has been grown for thousands of years to be used as a food, a spice and a medicine.
There are two varieties, softneck and hardneck. The neck in the name refers to the stalk that grows up from the bulb. Hardnecks have a stalk that shoots up from the center of the bulb and gets rigid when it is mature. Softneck stalks are just made up of leaves rather than a central stalk. There is something called elephant garlic but it is not a true garlic. It is more closely related to the leek.
Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk called a scape and usually produce fewer, larger cloves than the softneck varieties which do not normally produce a flower stalk. Softneck varieties are generally considered more productive than the hardneck varieties in that all their energy goes into producing a bulb rather than a bulb and a flower stalk. To improve the yield of hardneck garlic, cut off the scape and eat it in a salad or use it in some homemade dressing.
Garlic can be planted in the fall or spring. Fall planted cloves will produce roots and a little green shoot growth before going dormant once cold weather has arrived. In the spring, garlic will start growing again and the bulbs will develop about mid-summer. Garlic planted in the fall will generally be more mature and will make a larger head while the spring planted cloves will produce smaller heads.
The individual cloves from the garlic bulbs are separated and planted, pointed end up, about two to three inches deep and four to five inches apart, either in beds or rows. Planting the garlic purchased in supermarkets is not recommended as it may have been treated to prevent sprouting after harvesting. It is best to obtain disease free seed garlic from a seed supplier. Fertilize or top-dress with compost.
Garlic likes to grow in cool temperatures and in fertile, well drained soil. Garlic has a shallow root system and is therefore in competition with whatever weeds seeds sprout and try to take over. Timely, shallow cultivation is a must. Mulching with weed free straw after planting will help protect the seed during the winter months and conserve moisture and control weed emergence during the growing season. You may like to remove the mulch in the spring to allow the soil to warm faster, then replace the mulch when the shoots are about six inches tall to control the weeds.
You can tell when garlic is ready to harvest when the lower leaves start to turn brown or by digging a bulb up and checking to see if the cloves have filled the skins. When ready, the bulbs should be dug with the roots and shoots still attached. Set them aside in a well ventilated building to cure for about three to four weeks. After the shoots and roots have dried down, the shoots should be cut back to about one inch above the bulb and the roots should be trimmed close to the base. Do not put garlic in the refrigerator. It will sprout and become bitter.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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