At this year’s annual meeting of the Seed Saver’s Exchange, two garlic experts were asked during their workshop on growing garlic how they got so interested in growing garlic. The experienced old farmers replied in unison, “We like to eat!” – and that sums it up in a nutshell for us too.
Joel Girardin and John Swenson have been growing garlic and other alliums in the Midwest for many years. Wise old timers, they have a great deal of experience and wisdom between them and John has actually travelled around the world to look at alliums (onion family) at their source in Central Asia. Joel has grown more than 160 varieties of garlic. The gist of their talk was that garlic is easy-to-grow and the benefits of growing your own garlic are multiple.
For starters, like apples, tomatoes and most veggies, fresh garlic just tastes better. But there’s fresh and then there’s REALLY old — very often the garlic you buy in the grocery store is not only really old, it may very well have come from across the world. China is a big exporter of garlic to America.
We have written earlier about the two basic kinds of garlic that are commonly grown – hardneck and softneck (see our July 13 blog post). In short, softnecks store longer and grow better in warmer climates. Hardnecks are larger, more drought tolerant, grow scapes (flowers) that also make delicious eating, but don’t store as well. Sow True Seed still has garlic available for delivery in September: an organic softneck, California Early; and three hardnecks — Georgia Fire, German White and Music. (Although I thought Music was so named because it makes me want to sing, it was actually named after its breeder, John Music.)
Plant your garlic in rich, healthy, well-amended soil when the temperature of the soil is 60º or cooler. Plant cloves pointed end up, approximately 8 inches apart, a finger length deep in rows or beds that are well marked. After they come up, mulch with straw or your favorite non-weed carrying mulch and leave them alone. Note: To avoid fusarium wilt and white rot, just as with other vegetables, be sure not to plant garlic in the same part of your garden every year. A rotation period of 4–5 years is good. In the summer when the leaves start to die back it is time to harvest, usually in June.
Once you have harvested your own garlic, now what? First, you clean them up, put them into bundles tied with twine, label them and let them dry in a coolish, dry place for a few weeks. Don’t refrigerate your garlic. It likes a temperature of around 60º F, so ideally store it in a cool cellar, shed or garage.
How To Make Garlic Powder
An easy and more dependable way to store your garlic is in the form of garlic powder. After letting the freshly harvested garlic dry for a few weeks, peel the cloves and either:
- Roast the garlic for ½ hour in a 350º oven and after cooling, place in a kitchen blender or food processor, and then dehydrate the paste in the oven or dehydrator.
- Dehydrate the peeled cloves and blend them once dried. Place the garlic powder in a good glass jar and store with your other spices.