10 November, 2008

Keep Vampires Out of the Garden With Garlic

Keeping Vampires Out of the Garden.
By Greg Draiss

A sure sign of impending cool weather and the real end of summer is the annual Garlic Festival held in Saugerties, NY This festival has been rated as one of the top food festivals in the nation by some culinary experts. Everything sold at the festival must have garlic in the recipe. Originally a one day event it now spans the entire weekend attracting as many 50,000 people in search bad breath, vampire repellents and strangely flavored ice cream.

As a maturing society America discovered itself as a vast land of foodies in the mid 1980’s. There were many food fads that have come and gone. Gourmet abandoned it’s place on mid day PBS cooking shows and became synonymous with any food cooked by some one who liked to tell others how they cooked it. Nouveau cuisine became the new gourmet as high flying restaurants began serving small portions of artfully placed food stacked high and a high price to match. Food presentation was more important than taste.

Now with the health consciousness ones there is all of a sudden too much food on the plate.

But one trend in food that has endured is America’s love of herbs and spices an especially garlic. No food ingredient adds as much to a dish as herbs and garlic is the king of herbs.
No longer are gardeners and cooks stuck with one variety to choose from. There are dozens of garlic varities available for the home gardener as well as the home gourmet.

Garlic planting in our climate begins six weeks before the last frost date. That makes mid September a good starting point. The newly planted cloves need enough time to set roots and even begin some leaf growth before the ground freezes solid.

Garlic is a very long crop taking almost a full year to complete its cycle. Soil preparation is vital. A rich deep soil with lots of organic matter is what the bulb like best. If like me you have clay soil consider building raised beds and adding lots of compost, rotted manure or anything to achieve loose non compacted soil.

To plant break apart the bulb into individual clove and plant one inch deep. In raided beds or colder areas plant as deep as 4 inches to protect from freezing. Even then add an inch of mulch to the top of the bed for further protection. Garlic will easily push its way through the mulch when temperatures rise in spring.

For the largest bulb possible spacing is critical. I planted my Racombole too close last year and ended up with small bulbs. Space the cloves 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart for best results.

Always be watchful when cultivating weeds in the garlic bed. Remember these little cloves are often just below the surface.

Garlic’s’ nutrient needs are minimal for such a long crop. A moderate dressing of rich compost, dried manure or fish emulsion will suffice as the leaves begin to grow in the spring. Garlic also has an interesting need for nitrogen like other flowering bulbs. Garden logic tells us that flowering plants do not like nitrogen as it tends to encourage more leafy growth than flowers or roots. Well like tulips and daffodils an application of nitrogen sprayed on the leaves helps the leaves grow large enough to make enough food for the roots and flowers to grow larger. However this need for feeding comes to and ends in mid summer when bulbs start forming.

There are to classes of garlic to be concerned with, hard neck and soft neck. Hard neck varieties can be planted in fall and should be as spring planting will often result in poor yields. Soft necks varieties can be planted in fall or spring. As a matter of fact in areas of severe cold with no reliable snow cover or mulch soft necks should only be planted in spring.

Hard neck and soft neck varieties have the same growing and care needs with one exception. Hard necks if left to their own will form bulblets near the top of the flower stalk. This may look like a novelty in the garden the main bulb underground will be much smaller. Remove the flower stalk when it reaches 6-8 inches in height.

Harvesting begins when the leaves start to die off in late summer. Bulbs are then lifted dirt shaken off and then the bulb removed from direct sunlight. Place the bulbs anywhere there is good air circulation and warm temperatures. Curing takes roughly two weeks to three months depending on the location.

When the garlic has dried a choice needs to be made. Store or replant? Garlic is alike to rabbits in how fast it multiplies. Store what you need for the next year at 45-55 degrees in well circulated air.

Too plant some of this years’ harvest for picking next year simply follow the planting instructions at the beginning of this article. Garlic is a wonderful crop to enjoy in all seasons of its growth.

Garlic reminds us like other flowering bulbs that there is a lot going on the garden in the fall. Gardening is indeed a year round activity simply by its design. Next time Labor Day rolls around and you think the garden is done for the year remember garlic. This small clove planted just before the weather turns harsh withstands the cold to give us a harvest of pungent delight.

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