Friday, March 11, 2011

Gourmet Garlic - Why not grow your own?

Most people, even those who cook regularly with garlic may not realize the diversity that exists in garlic plants.  The many-clove heads of garlic with the white papery shell that you get at the grocery store, or the already minced and stored in oil garlic that you get at that same store limits your palate considerably.  If you love garlic, then you need to experiment and enjoy its endless variety.

Garlic is as various as the world

Garlic is a highly adaptable plant and therefore exists in a wide range of characteristics, differences in flavor, ease of peeling, hardiness in colder climates, storage properties, number of cloves and size of the head can all show differences, and most importantly the rich and complex flavors can varied as well.

Growing Garlic is actually very easy

  1. Start with quality stock.  The best place is to find a local grower or a specialty producer who specializes in “seed” stock.  Separate the cloves and discard any that look unhealthy.
  2. Plant cloves in a sunny location in fall, at least three weeks before the ground freezes.  October is a good month.  Plant cloves root end down, pointed tip up two to three inches deep.  Space plantings 6 inches apart with rows 10 inches apart.
  3. Plant in loose, loamy soil, with a near-neutral pH.  You can work some nutrients into the soil with composted manure, and then feed them in spring.
  4. If your winters are very cold or dry, mulch the beds to protect them from freezing.  This can be accomplished with straw.
  5. Keep garlic well watered but to not make the area muddy with too much water.

Harvesting and Storing Garlic

  1. Cut off the scapes (flower stalks of hardneck varieties) after they have curled down, but before they uncurl to grow straight out.  If you don’t remove the scrapes, the bulbs will be smaller.  (These scrapes are perfect in stir-fry, soups or salads.)
  2. Harvest garlic when about 5 to 6 leaves remain green.  Garlic leaves die from the inward to the outermost leaf upward.  To harvest, first loosen the soil with a spade or fork.  Then gently pull the bulb from the ground, gently rub the soil out of the roots.  Keep harvested bulbs out of direct sunlight and do not rinse them with water.
  3. Cure bulbs in a well-ventilated area out of the sun.  With twine, tie the garlic in bundles of 6 to 12.  Hang the bundles to dry and cure, bulb portion downward, for several weeks. Until the leafy potion above the bulbs is completely dry.  (You can braid the leaves and stems to hang the bulbs to dry also – see blog on September, 13,  2010 for directions .)
  4.  Trim the leafy potion about 1 inch above the bulb; trim the roots to about ¼ inch long.  Brush soil from the roots with a toothbrush.  Remove the outermost dirty bulb wrapper with your thumb or the edge of the toothbrush.
  5. Store the garlic in a netted bag, like those used for onions, lemons and potatoes.  This will allow air to circulate.  Keep the garlic in a cool, well ventilated area, but do not store it in the refrigerator or below 50 degrees or it will sprout.  Ideal storage conditions are 56 to 58 degrees with a relative humidity of 45 to 50 percent similar to the conditions of a good wine celler.  However, this isn’t really required; garlic will keep just fine even with higher temperatures and more humidity.  Just not too hot.  (I made the mistake of storing mine in the cupboard next to the refrigerator.  When I moved it to the pantry, they kept longer and stopped sprouting.)

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