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Advice & More July 2018

The Midnight Gardener

Stinky and Still Delicious

By Lori Rose

There seems to be no in between with garlic – some folks, like vampires, wrinkle up their noses and back away. The rest of us adore the aroma and flavor.

Superstition has it that wearing garlic around your neck will make the vampires leave you alone. Honestly, if you wear garlic around your neck, everyone will leave you alone. But eating garlic is another story. Nearly every culture on Earth has a recipe or two that includes garlic, either a little bit for flavor or a lot as the main ingredient. There seems to be no in between with garlic – some folks, like vampires, wrinkle up their noses and back away. The rest of us adore the aroma and flavor.

Garlic is easy and fun to grow – for every clove you plant, you'll harvest a full-sized head filled with cloves. To get beautiful garlic heads that will store well into the winter, plant the cloves in the fall, right around Labor Day. The idea is to get the cloves in the ground during warm weather for good root formation. It is good sign when you get green shoots peeking above the soil in late autumn. Don't worry, garlic can tolerate frost. Don't plant garlic from the supermarket as it has been treated not to sprout. Get your "seed" garlic from a good local nursery or an internet supplier.

When you're ready to plant your garlic, carefully break it into individual cloves. It is best to do this right at planting time so the cloves don't dry out. Plant each clove, pointy end up, four to six inches deep (two inches of soil over the top of the clove, three inches for elephant garlic), leaving six inches between each clove. Garlic roots like to go deep, so well cultivated soil is a big help. Poke holes in the ground and drop one clove in each hole, covering up the entire batch with a rake at the end.

Plant the biggest cloves and eat the rest. Your garlic will send up green shoots this fall, go dormant over winter, and then continue growing next spring. After the leaves grow in June, a seed scape will form on top of the stem. Remove it so the extra energy can be used to grow a larger bulb. Eat these little morsels – they make a great stir fry vegetable.

Keeping garlic in the ground too long does not result in bigger bulbs, but rather dried out, split and nearly useless ones. Harvest the bulbs when the lower half of the leaves has turned brown. Test dig one or two plants. You should be able to see the shape of the cloves beginning to bulge through the wrapper. To get the bulb out of the ground, carefully loosen the soil around each plant with a pitchfork. Then you can lift out the whole plant.

Cure garlic bulbs before storing. The entire plant, leaves and all, should be dried out for two to three weeks. Do not wash the bulbs or expose them to water. Tie up a dozen bulbs with string or wire and hang them in a well-ventilated place. Or pack them loosely in a large mesh bag and hang them where they'll get a lot of air circulation. If you do find any that are molding, throw them away as quickly as possible. After the garlic is cured, cut off the tops an inch above the bulb and trim the roots.

Store the bulbs in a ceramic garlic keeper or a burlap bag. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator or it will try to sprout. Hardneck garlic and elephant garlic can be kept for several months. Softneck varieties tend to have a longer shelf life.

Eating garlic boosts the immune system, so eating lots of it can only do us good. When using garlic in recipes, remember that the smaller you cut it, the stronger the flavor. Chopping finely or pressing a clove exposes more surfaces to the air, causing a chemical reaction to produce that strong aroma and flavor. Try not to burn garlic – it will become bitter.

If anything that includes garlic gives you the dreaded garlic breath, try chewing fresh mint leaves or parsley to help neutralize the odor. But if you really want to ward off the vampires, eat lots of garlic and breathe your garlic breath with pride.


Lori Rose, the Midnight Gardener, is a Temple University Certified Master Home Gardener and member of the GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. She has gardened since childhood, and has been writing about gardening for more than 15 years.

Meet Lori