Garlic

Garlic has been heralded for its health benefits for centuries, attributed with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, boosting the immune system and as an anti-inflammatory.

I try to mix up what I plant in my vegetable beds each year. There are usually a few varieties of tomatoes as well as three or four varieties of peppers.

I alternate between growing cucumbers, yellow squash and zucchini because they each require a lot of growing space.

Every year, I try something new. This year, I successfully grew eggplant. Last year, it was okra, and the year before, it was Brussels sprouts, which — I’ll be honest — wasn’t all that successful.

This year, my pepper plants showed out. All the varieties I planted produced wonderfully. I have just finished harvesting the last of them and have been canning for two days.

As I was reaching for yet another clove of garlic, the thought crossed my mind I should just go ahead and grow my own, as much as I use it. I’m like that famous chef guy who puts like 40 cloves of “gah-lic” in everything, because hey, I’m kickin’ it up a notch.

Garlic has been heralded for its health benefits for centuries, attributed with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, boosting the immune system and as an anti-inflammatory. Garlic grows underground in the form of a bulb. The bulb is made up of a cluster of cloves that are encased in a thin, papery skin.

Mid-October through November is the best time to plant garlic. Choose a spot with well-drained soil. Since garlic bulbs form underground, areas where water collects will cause the bulb and roots to rot or become diseased.

Prepare the soil by enriching with compost and manure along with a complete fertilizer, such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. This can be done several weeks before planting. Alternatively, compost and manure can be worked into the ground just before planting and a slow-release fertilizer broadcast over the bed at that time. Fertilize again in February.

To plant, break individual cloves off of the bulb. Make an indent in the soil with your finger between four to five inches deep. Make as many holes as you plan to plant spaced 6 inches apart and between rows. Place the clove, pointed end up as it was on the bulb, into the hole and cover with soil.

Because we get freezing and thawing temperatures throughout winter, cover the area with straw to prevent the bulbs from heaving. As soil freezes it expands and then settles again when thawing. This causes roots, and in this case bulbs, to be pushed above the ground level. The layer of straw will help maintain the soil temperature.

Growing garlic in the South can be a little tricky. Garlic bulbs begin developing when soil temperatures reach about 60 degrees. They begin bulb maturation, which stops growth, when soil temps reach 90 degrees. Keeping soil cool as long as possible will result in larger bulbs. Mulching is also beneficial in spring, when temperatures may heat up quickly earlier than you would want for growing garlic.

Watering less frequently but deeply will encourage roots to grow deeper where soil is cooler. While most often garlic cloves are planted 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil, here in the South planting cloves a little deeper, between 4 to 5 inches, will keep them in cooler soil longer.

Shading soil during the hottest part of the day is another way to keep garlic from reaching maturation early. Sun shades or planting in an area that receives afternoon shade, along with light colored mulch, all go a long way in keeping soil temperatures cool.

Garlic is ready to be harvested when the bottom leaves begin to turn yellow and the tops are dry and start to fall over. Lift the entire plant from the ground. Do not wash. Lay in a warm, dry, shaded area for several days. Most varieties of soft-scape garlic, which is recommended for growing in the South, will keep for 6 to 8 months in a dry, well-ventilated area.

Once you have your harvest, put a little “bam” in your cooking with garlic. Until next week, happy gardening.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners Association, can be reached at kippirland@hotmail.com. For more information on LCMGA, visit http://mg.aces.edu/limestone.

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