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Garlic - A Root for Life

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"You are what you eat. For example, if you eat garlic you're apt to be a hermit." -- Franklin P. Jones

When fall comes, it's garlic planting time. Last year's supply is running low, and we need to think about how much will be needed for next year.

We love garlic.

That's an understatement.

If garlic is called for in a recipe, there is no reason not to double the allotted amount. If no garlic is called for in a savory dish ... well certainly the chef just forgot to include it in the list of ingredients. We don't go so far as do some of Rooster's friends; they eat garlic like apples ... good thing they are a couple and enjoy their treat together.

Garlic has mystical powers, and for good reason. It wards off vampires, keeps goblins away at night, and heals all manner of pains and ills. What's not to like?

When it comes time for planning your crop, the variety is bewildering in breadth. On the farm we have simplified the decision and stick with softnecks. We braid them for display and use through the year, or the garlic braids can be sold en masse at the farmer's market. All this depends on good planning starting your crop in the fall.

In Woods Hole, we have relatively mild winters. A little snow and occasional stretches of sub-freezing temperatures. This is well suited to most garlic. The soil is cleared of debris and stubble from the previous crop. A little compost or manure is worked into the soil and made ready. Use bulbs from last year's crop or order new ones from catalogs. We have gotten bulbs from The Garlic Store and The Cook's Garden. Many other sources are available.

When you have your bulbs and the soil is ready ... time to begin. We plant in October.

Break the bulbs into individual cloves and remove the obviously loose garlic skin. Soak the cloves in fish emulsion fertilizer overnight. This gives the garlic a boost to start their initial growth before winter sets in. When you are ready to plant, drop the cloves into vodka or grain alcohol; rubbing alcohol works, too, but we prefer to give our garlic a little parting boost with drinkable hooch before being committed to the ground. Either way, this last step before planting kills fungus that can ruin the garlic once it is in the soil. Plant the cloves about 3" deep, 4-6" apart. Put the root end of clove down and cover the hole. After all your garlic are planted, mulch the beds to protect them from drying winter winds. We harvest seaweed that has washed up on the beach during fall storms and mulch a few inches deep.

The weather is still a little warm in October and November, and the garlic cloves begin to sprout. You will see green shoots coming up through the mulch. Almost looks like spring, but that is months away. Beautiful fall days give way to winter cold and snows. Don't worry, the garlic is happily working it's magic in the ground. Last year, we had mountains of snow and cold temperature, but didn't loose any of our crop. This winter, it is warm and the garlic seems quite content.

In the spring, the green tops will start their strong growth spurt. A center flower stalk, called the scape, will form. If you cut off the scape when they are about a foot tall, the bulbs will be larger. In mid summer, around July in Woods Hole, the greens will start to brown. It is time to harvest. Dig up the bulbs, leaving the tops on. Knock off any loose dirt, but don't be too aggressive. The bulbs will get cleaned up later. When you have a manageable quantity of bulbs out of the ground, lay them out under cover and away from direct sunlight for several days to dry. Put them on newspaper or other absorbent material. You want to avoid moisture, which will rot the bulbs. Good air circulation is important. After a few days, the external dirt will have dried. Rub this off to clean up the bulbs and tie them in bundles of perhaps a dozen or so. Hang these bundles to dry for three or four weeks at which point they are ready for braiding or storage.

Braiding the garlic is easy. Here's a good video, courtesy of Gardenerd showing you how to do it. If you don't braid the garlic, they need to be stored in mesh bags or paper bags. Keep then in a cool, well ventilated place, preferably in the dark. A cupboard is a good place. Temperature of 55° F and humidity of 55% is ideal. We can't achieve these conditions over the summer, but the garlic seems to be fine. Word of caution, do not put the garlic in a refrigerator ... it will sprout!

If all goes as planned, your garlic is ready whenever you need some ... gumbo ... pasta ... bruschetta ... it's hard to plant enough, but you can try.

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