Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's Time to Plant Garlic! (And, of Course, a Recipe)

I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it's the season to plant fall garlic (September through November; very early spring in southern climes), which will be ready for harvest next summer. Garlic is easy to grow, and doesn't take much pampering other than weeding and possibly a bit of fertilizer in the early spring. And since garlic is pungent, it isn't bothered by many garden pests--a rather carefree addition to your food garden.

I have some cloves that have begun sprouting, so these will be what I use when I plant outside later today:

There are several kinds of garlic, and while many varieties are white, there are lovely colors to choose from as well.

Hardneck or top-setting garlic grows small bulbs that set on flower stalks with larger bulbs underground. The cloves seem to be more uniform in size, but there are fewer in each bulb.

Softneck garlic grows bulbs underground that are larger than hardneck bulbs, and they rarely set flowers. However, many of the cloves are smaller than the hardneck varieties; the outer cloves are good sized, but the inner cloves tend to be small.

Elephant garlic isn't really a garlic at all; it's a type of leek. They seem to have become popular in recent years, but I've never grown them so I can't really comment on them.

Garlic is sold in garden centers and through seed catalogs, and there's a lot to choose from. But I tend to simply plant garlic that's started sprouting that I purchased from the store and didn't get around to using. I buy organic garlic, and that way I don't have to worry about the bulbs being sprayed with a sprout inhibitor. So, if you decide to go the grocery store route, buy organic, or ask the produce person whether their garlic has been sprayed. If it has, don't use it.

Garlic is care-free, but it's still a good idea to plant the cloves in raised beds or a large container if your garden soil is heavy. If you decide to grow in a container, it should be at least 2 feet wide and deep. If you know your soil tends toward acid, apply a light dusting of lime. Also, if your weather is very cold without the insulating value of snow cover, you may want to mulch them.

Plant individual cloves 2 inches deep and about 4 inches apart. Plant them root side down (the pointed end goes up and the blunt end goes down). A 10-foot row of garlic can yield as much as 5 pounds of garlic.

Once planted, keep the garlic watered (not a problem in the rainy Pacific Northwest!), and fertilize with something nitrogen-rich like bloodmeal in the early spring. They should be ready to harvest around the beginning of July, but start checking them in late June. Of course, maturity depends on the variety you planted as well as your local climate, so ask around and see what experienced gardeners in your area have to say on the subject. Leaves turning brown don't necessarily mean they are ready--the garlic can be mature even with green leaves present, so checking is your best bet.

Dig and dry the garlic out of the sun for several days. Gently brush off dirt and then remove tops and roots or else braid them together. They store well in a dark closet or pantry. Keep in mind that if you store them in the refrigerator, the humidity will tend to make them sprout quicker.

Roasted Garlic

Take garlic bulbs (I usually roast two as that amounts to a lot of garlic), and take off a bit of the papery outer covering if it's dirty; otherwise leave as is. Cut off the top of the bulbs so the tops of the cloves are exposed. Place a small spritz of olive oil in the middle of aluminum foil squares (one for each bulb), set the bulbs on the oil and then drizzle on a very small amount of olive oil over the tops of the bulbs, about 1 teaspoon should do. Wrap them in the foil (one bulb to each packet) and set them in a baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until they are soft. The garlic will squeeze right out of the bulbs.

Use this garlic "mash" on sourdough bread (dip the bread into olive oil/balsamic vinegar) or mix it with butter for a garlic butter spread. Or, you can sauté a batch of fresh greens and use the roasted garlic to season the greens along with some Parmesan cheese. The garlic is also good on cheese and crackers. Really, the possibilities are numerous, so use your imagination.

Happy eating!

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