By Darryl Birkenfeld
My early experiences with garlic were not good. During Freshman Initiation Day back in high school, some classmates and I spent a day walking around in old shirts drenched with garlic juice! Man, were we popular! By my college years, I began to learn that garlic wasn’t a plague loosed upon humanity, but rather, a key ingredient for transforming vegetable and meat dishes into the most savory meals (especially when paired with wine). In the mid-90’s, I once enjoyed a “40-Clove Chicken” entrée at a restaurant in San Francisco called The Stinking Rose.
As my appreciation for garlic grew, I began to learn more about using it in cooking. Trouble was, every time I wanted to use garlic, the cloves were either shriveled and dried out, or there was no fresh garlic to be found in the pantry. I had heard from other gardeners that garlic could easily be grown right here on the Llano Estacado. Finally, two years ago, I gave it a try, and now I can’t imagine not growing my own garlic, or not having a year’s supply at my disposal.
How does one grow garlic? In truth, it is one of the easiest crops to take care of, and you don’t need an entire garden, just a small section or even better, a raised-bed. And here’s the counter-intuitive part: garlic grows during the winter! That’s right—you plant it after the freeze has put all your summer vegetables to sleep, then it sprouts up out of the ground in January and grows six-inches tall by early March, and ultimately, you harvest it in late June.
Various gardening websites suggest planting garlic in October or November (www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/how-to-plant-garlic). I like to plant garlic in the raised-bed where my tomatoes have been growing, so I wait until the tomato vines have died and I can cut them down in November and condition the soil for planting. Where do you get garlic seed? The best place to find garlic for planting is in a reputable seed catalogue. Back in 2009, when my wife and I were visiting family that summer, my wife and I bought our seed bulbs from Filaree Farm in eastern Washington state (http://www.filareefarm.com/ordinf.html). It doesn’t take a great deal of garlic to get your seed–you select a couple of varieties and buy them in bulbs. When your bulbs arrive in the mail, you separate them into individual cloves, because each clove is a seed that you put into the ground to eventually sprouts a garlic plant. When you harvest your first garlic crop, you save some of your best bulbs to be your seed garlic in coming fall.
To prepare your soil for planting garlic, make sure your soil is loose and well-drained soil with some compost or other fertilizer mixed in. Insert your cloves root side down (the flat end) and make sure that the pointy end is facing up—this is where the plant sprouts and grows up through the soil. Plant your cloves 3 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart. It is good to place some straw mulch over the top of your garlic row or patch, so that the soil will retain moisture when you water, and the seedlings will have some protection when they start to emerge from the soil. During December-February, remember to water your garlic every 2-3 weeks, unless it snows or rains. Even in winter, though evaporation is much slower, the soil can dry out.
Harvesting and storing your garlic is a subject for another Local Llano blog that I will write next spring—the first steps toward having your own garlic are what you want to focus on at this time. If you want to order garlic bulbs for planting, now is the time. Most suppliers have a mid and late-October shipping time, so don’t miss out. In the meantime, if you need extra visualization, here is a video that demonstrates how to plant garlic:
Unlike my early days when I suffered the smell of garlic, I now recognize that garlic, like variety, is the spice of life! May your meals and cooking soon be filled by the irresistible smell and taste of your own home-grown garlic!
Next week: Freanna Yoghurt