In the spirit of Halloween, let’s talk about garlic. I know, pumpkins seem more festive but I think garlic is festive too. Everyone who is up on classic vampire lore knows that garlic keeps vampires away. Historically it was thought that the strong smell would ward off the also bad smelling undead. And what is Halloween without a few vampires running/flapping around?
In more modern times we know that garlic is a versatile herb that provides many benefits to those who eat it. Garlic is available as health supplement in pills, but I think it is best in its natural state.
Garlic is one of my favorite food plants to grow and I usually always have a patch of this growing somewhere in the garden. (Or under the windows in case of vampires.) This is because it provides many uses in cooking, we use a lot in my house and it is also one of the easiest plants to work with.
Garlic gets the spotlight in my area in a lot of Italian cooking with garlic bread and sauces. But it also shows up in German recipes like knödel and sauerbraten. Garlic is used in most Indian and East Asian food too.
Growing garlic is very simple. All anyone needs is dirt and a whole clove of garlic. This can be in a planter or in the grown, garlic does fine in containers. In fact, garlic is so easy to grow that it is a ditch weed here in the Mid-Atlantic. Garlic and onions grow as weeds along the roads and in yards. It is so easy to grow that it literally grows itself.
I start with a small hole in the dirt and just place the clove in pointy side up. I cover it with a little soil and make sure it gets the occasional watering. After a while the clove will shoot up one little green shoot. After a while this will be multiple flat blades and it will be a full plant. As the single clove grows into a plant, it will produce more cloves underground and will eventually make a whole head of garlic. The process takes a few months, but in the end, you have a whole head of garlic from one little clove. This can be split into cloves to use and others to plant and keep the cycle going.
I have learned through trial and error that garlic will bloom. And it will seed. But the easiest way to propagate more plants is the simple method of splitting bulbs into cloves. This method provides a dependable product since this it carries exact genetic copies from the one generation to the next. Seeds are the result of pollination and therefore could have different genetics depending on the parents.
This year I did have some that I allowed to bloom out of curiosity. I wanted to see what the flowers would look like. After the plants produce a round puff ball bloom, they die back completely. The cloves at this point are rather tough and hard to work with. I tried to split them and it did not work well. The cloves were not ready to begin growing again. However, there was a bulb that I left totally alone. All the cloves in this bulb began growing again in late summer. As each one sprouted one spike, it looked like an odd clump of green spikes at first. At this point I dug up the bulb, split the cloves, and replanted them with spacing that allows them to grow to maturity. Each has now grown into a new garlic plant. And at this point we are back to where we started with small garlic cloves re-growing into full bulbs. These bulbs should be ready to harvest in the spring. Garlic will overwinter in this climate (Zone 7) very well.
Below is a picture of the bulb I dug up to split. It is clear how they fell away from a common center which was the main stalk of the original plant that died back.