March 30th
 

theresa albert - my friend in food

 

Gorgeous Garlic

garliccopy

Garlic is one of the oldest crops in the world. Its medicinal benefits have been known for thousands of years. In addition to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels garlic can prevent heart disease, reduce cancer risk and even ward off vampires. (I only have anecdotal evidence of this.)

It’s a staple in the kitchen because of its great flavour and versatility. These days, there’s no reason to buy garlic that has been shipped half way around the world because there are many places to buy it locally and organically. But the very best way to get your garlic is to grow your own. It’s easily done in the fall a few weeks before the first frost. This give the cloves a chance to set roots before the winter hits and gives it a great head start by the time spring arrives.

Garlic is harvested in mid to late summer depending on the variety. There are two main types of garlic, hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck is generally easier to grow as it has more papery outer layers called “wrappers” that protect many small cloves. Hard neck varieties generally have fewer, larger cloves and fewer wrappers. Hard neck varieties distinguish themselves by sending up a deliciously edible central stalk or “scape” that curls and later develops into a flower or more accurately a “bulbils”. Eating the scape has the added benefit of allowing the bulb to more fully develop, as it no longer concentrates its efforts on flowering.

Harvesting

By now in mid summer the scapes have long been devoured and it’s probably time to start harvesting the bulb. But take note, a few weeks before you harvest you need to stop watering. Garlic needs to “cure” or be dried after it’s been harvested and if it’s been overwatered it may lead to moldy bulbs that won’t last through the winter.

It can be difficult to determine when is the best time to harvest. If you’re growing hard neck varieties, one way is to leave a few scapes to develop into bulbils. When the scapes start to stand up straight and begin to “flower” you know it’s time to stop watering. The leaves will start to brown and sometimes fall over. Another way to tell if your garlic is ready to pull is to simply harvest a bulb to see if it’s fully grown. It’s tempting to pull it up by the leaves but it’s better to use a flat shovel or spade and gently wedge it in between the rows, unearthing the juicy bulb.

Curing/Cleaning/Storing

Garlic bulbs need to be handled carefully as they can bruise. Simply brush the soil off the bulb. Make sure to leave the roots attached and hang the bulbs in bunches in a cool, dark place away from the sun’s damaging rays. Try to find a spot where there is good air circulation. If not, you can always use a fan.

When the bulbs are dry, about 2 or 3 weeks, remove the roots and the dirty outer wrapper. There is no need to wash them in water. If you store the cured bulbs in a cool place in a mesh bag they should last at least 6 to 7 months.

Here are a few great places to purchase garlic “seed” for fall planting.

http://www.thecuttingveg.com/

http://www.garlicfarm.ca/

Arlene

Arlene

Arlene Hazzan Green is an urban farmer and television director with one foot in the dirt and one in high heels. Along with her husband Marc Green she founded The Backyard Urban Farm Company with the goal of igniting people’s passion for growing their own food. Together they design, install and maintain organic vegetable gardens in homes, schools and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area. For more info about Arlene please visit www.bufco.ca

 

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