Garlic (Allium Sativum) is a perennial herb of the Liliaceae (Lilly) family, which has now become one of the essential ingredients in many main course dishes. Not only does it have culinary uses but also many believe in its medical properties. It has proven its usefulness in the garden, giving protection to other plants from marauding insects. This plant with its strong, pungent smell is rich in amino acids, volatile oil, and sulphur compounds; it also contains enzymes and allicin and has anti septic properties. It contains vitamins, A, B1, B2 and C so clearly is a plant well worth growing.
Garlic is fairly easy to grow but the really good garlic is more difficult. If you just want to grow some form of garlic just separate the cloves from a bulb of garlic from the supermarket and plant them into the ground between September and March, it will more than likely grow, but what it wont be is good garlic. If you want to grow healthy, large bulbs and why grow them unless you do, then there is much more to growing garlic than that.
There are many other varieties than the one we can buy from the supermarkets, others with better flavour and bigger bulbs but they do require different growing conditions so its important to grow the verities that are suitable for your conditions. Size in garlic is determined first by the variety and then by growing conditions; soil conditions and watering are of the utmost importance when growing, excellent, large, healthy garlic.
Garlic requires a well-balanced soil that is loose enough for the bulb to grow and expend. What it doesn't like is dry, hard packed clay or thin rocky soils that may restrict its expansion.
Prepare the soil a few months before you intend to plant. Plant the cloves during autumn- late September because garlic likes to come up and put a little growth on before the winter sets in. This ensures that it establishes its root system so that it can survive the winter ready to explode with growth in the spring. As the weather warms up in summer the temperatures causes the garlic to bolt, this means that the plant is going to seed. Since garlic does not produce seed, it reproduces by forming as many cloves as its genetics will allow. The bulb gets bigger until the heat of the summer kills off the leaves.
Garlic likes to be planted in fertile, well-drained raised beds so that the bulb itself is in the drier part of the soil with its roots down where there is more moisture. If your area gets plenty of rain and snow and very cold winters, then grow your garlic in higher beds. Plant the cloves 4 in. (101mm) deep 6 in. (15cm) apart making sure that the root end is sitting on the bottom, mulch heavily to protect from sub-zero temperatures. Garlic will of course grow in flat ground but raised beds help the plant to fend off disease, which can attach when the bulb sits in water for too long.
Garlic likes a slightly moist but not wet soil, wet soil encourages disease such as fungus and blight but too little moisture will cause the bulb to dry out and it will not expand. One way of determining the moisture content of the soil is to push your hand down into the root zone and feel the soil at that depth. If your hand comes out dry, it's time to water; if it is muddy and the soil sticks to your hand, it's too wet. In that situation, remove some of the mulch from around the plant, this will allow the soil dry out a little. Do not water during the week before you intend to harvest the crop, as it is easier to pull or dig out garlic from fairly dry soil than it is from wet soil, plus garlic will store better if it is not too wet.
There are few things in nature that give garlic problems because this plant kills or repels most insects, fungi, and many other predators that attack other plants. Therefore it isn't necessary to give protection to the garlic like you would give to other more venerable crops.
The time to harvest will depend on which part of the country you live and the variety of garlic you are growing. Since spring warms up from the south to the north, southern growers will harvest earlier than northern growers. You should remember that it is heat and sun, which causes garlic to mature. A long cool spring will delay growth. Generally speaking, if you planted your cloves in September and you have one of the earlier maturing varieties and the weather has been warm, then by mid-May they should be ready to lift. Northern growers may find that they have to wait a few more weeks.
Hardneck garlic's will send up a stalk or scape as it is correctly called a month or two before harvest time. Softneck garlic's do not unless they are stressed by adverse growing conditions. Garlic leaves signal by turning brown and dying that they have matured. The outermost leaves die first and then the rest die from the ground up. In Softneck varieties the time to harvest is when the outer leaves have all died down and only the top six leaves are still green. It isn't necessary to wait until all the leaves die and fall over like onions do or you will encounter problems to arise when later storing the bulbs. The spores of fungus disease can enter bulbs when they are left in the ground and are over ripe. It also allows the bulb wrappers (thin skin tissue) to rot away leaving the bulbs exposed with nothing left to give protection to the cloves.
The Asiatic group of Artichokes garlic need to be harvested as soon as the lower leaves start to die down, otherwise they will be over-ripe.
To make sure that you time the harvest correctly, you can dig down around a few plants to inspect the bulbs but this exercise must be done with a great deal of care not to damage the roots. When they are ready make sure that they are removed from the ground without injuring the bulbs. If your soil is loose, you can gently pull them up by their necks, otherwise use a fork to gently loosen the surrounding soil by pushing it deeper than the bulbs and lifting with care. Once lifted, handle them carefully, never bang the bulbs together to shake off the soil. Take them out of the sun, as this will dry them out too quickly.
Garlic likes to dry gradually to allow excess moisture in the roots and leaves to evaporate or withdraw into the bulb. Wait until the roots and necks are completely dried and it does not emit a typical garlic odour when cut, then that is the time to trim it. It often takes three or four weeks to get to that stage, longer for large bulbs.
Store the garlic in a dry place out of the sun but never put them into plastic bags or sealed containers. Some varieties store better and longer than others, Silverskins can be stored longest, with Artichokes second longest but Rocamboles are the shortest storing varieties. There are four factors that affect the storage; how well it was grown and cured, its variety type, temperature and humidity.
You must have noticed that the garlic you buy at the supermarket doesn't keep very long after you take it home. The reason is that they usually store it at 32F. It then stays in limbo and can do so for a few months. Once they put it on their shelves for sale, time like the rest of us catches up with it and it either deteriorates rapidly or starts to sprout. Garlic stores best at 55 - 65 F. and between 40 - 60 % humidity and it is important that there is airflow around the bulbs. Basically, any dark, cool place is fine.
Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com. Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at www.lawnsurgeon.com [http://www.lawnsurgeon.com]
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