Garlic has been around for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest known food flavorings as well as a medicinal tool. The more we find out about this bulbous marvel, the more we love it. Have a problem with vampires? Garlic! Have a cold? Garlic. There isn’t much that this culinary marvel can’t do! We are going to do a deep dive into garlic and hopefully, you will learn something new – and as we always say, it’s a good day when you learn something new!
What is Garlic?
We all know it is an indispensable item in our kitchens. We have fresh bulbs in the drawer, we have garlic powder in the spice cabinet and we may even be growing it in our gardens (more about that later!) – but do we actually know what garlic is?
Garlic – Allium sativum – is a bulbous flowering plant that was native to Central Asia, South Asia and northeastern Iran. Lucky for all of us it can be grown all over the world. Garlic is related to onion, shallots, leeks and chives.
Types of Garlic
There are two types of garlic – harneck and softneck. If you have seen the beautiful braids of garlic at the Farmer’s Market then you are looking at softneck. Depending on where you live will depend on which type of garlic is best suited for you.
Hardneck garlic has a stalk that grows from the center of the plant and the cloves are formed around it. Hardneck garlic plants also produce a flower, or “scape” that can be harvested before the bulbs to make many different types of foods including delicious pestos.
Hardneck garlic can be planted almost anywhere – even down to zone 1 (Alaska) and there are over 200 varieties to choose from. One of the best ways I have found is by talking to the garlic farmers at the farmers markets and they can always help you decide which will be right for you.
Hardneck garlic has a shorter shelf life of only 3-5 months so if you can use up all your garlic by then, then read below on some great ways to extend the harvest. Our goal is to grow enough of any crop to last us the entire year, and with both types of garlic this is possible!
Softneck garlic has leaves instead of a rigid stalk that stay soft and pliable until harvest, which is what makes them a good choice for making garlic braids. Most of the garlic you find in the store will be softneck garlic as it has a longer shelf life of up to 9 months.
While you can grown softneck garlic in the northern climates it is best to grown in the warmer climtes as it does not require the prolonged periods of cold like the hardneck varieties.
Garlic is a super easy plant to grow! It’s has very few pest/diseases so it can be planted in the spring/fall and pretty much ignored until harvest time. The key is to selelct an are that gets at least 6-8 hours of full sun, have plenty of composted organic matter in the soil and cover with mulch. That’s it!
Most people like to plant their garlic in the fall. The reasons for this is the bulbs benefit from prolonged cold – of 40 days below 40 degrees. This is called vernalization . You will want to plant your cloves 6-8 weeks before your first frost date.
Harvesting garlic is fairly simple, but there are a few things your must keep in mind. Generally, once 3-4 of the lower leaves start to turn brown. You can dig up a bulb or two to check. If the cloves seem small you can leave them in the ground for another week and check again. You don’t want to leave them in the ground too long or the cloves could burst out of their skins and can succumb to disease. If you do harvest some cloves that have burst out of their skins and look disease free, just use them up right away.
The best time to harvest will be when the ground is dry. You will want to loosen up the soil a few inches away from the stem with a garden fork so as not to damage the bulb. Do not pull the bulb up out of the ground as the stalks could separate from the bulb.
Curing is a pretty straightforward process which you can read about here.
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic’s benefit are many. It is said to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It is said to help with:
- Lowering Cholesterol
- Improving Heart Health
- May help to prevent neurodegenerative diseases
- Reducing the risk of dementia
- Sulphur compunds in garlic may help removing lead levels in blood
- Helps regulate blood sugar
- May boost immunity
All the information on this website is for education purpose only. Consult a medical practitioner for health problems.