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You may query what growing garlic has to do with greener building. Perhaps this section of my blog should be directed towards green living? In my mind, there is no separation between growing, eating or building as it’s all just living. Recall from elsewhere in this keyboarding exercise, that work is love made manifest. If you need more evidence, Rumi states in a favourite quatrain the following:
He is a letter
you open it
it says LIVE
Garlic is a member of the allium family of vegetables. Other members include onions, leeks and chives. Many eat garlic and love the taste for its distinctive flavour. I never thought much about the food I consumed, as it was all just energy that I stuffed in that facial opening we call our mouth. At some point back in the mid 1990’s, I decided to plant garlic in raised bed planters.
These raised beds were crafted from eastern white cedar 4 x 4’s. I made huge slabs 4′ wide x 8′ long, then cut them on a slight diagonal with the 27″, bandsaw to compensate for the terrain slope in front of the Brighton, ON home (listed in our archives).
I planted in ON for perhaps 2 or 3 years, drying the pulled plants on the bare garage floor. Both pulling and concrete drying are no-no’s, but wait ‘til later. I believe where we live should be where most of our food is grown. I recall discussion years ago when I lived in Bring Cash, that any new housing developments ought to signal the developer to provide the major source of food for those potential new occupants.
I did then and still feel, that food management or food security if you like, is a great condition of building development, whether for a single family home, condo, apt, duplex or eco village etc. Doing so, eliminates all the transport associated with fresh food in supermarkets and quite possibly helps in creating a more sustainable living situation. Although there are those now who claim that sustainability is a middle class notion, meant to push aside the fact that half the world does not nor cannot enjoy this ‘standard’ of existence. I refer to an article of late in Orion magazine by the Brit, a Mr. Paul Kingsnorth.
TIME OF PLANTING:
Our climate zone here in NS where I grow, is 6a. I like to get the garlic in the dirt somewhere between mid to end of Oct. Garlic will send down roots 10″ or more while over wintering. Much of this below surface growth occurs in the relative warmth of late Oct. through Nov.
Plant growth during this period depends entirely upon soil warmth, since the mulch covers the upper growth, helping it to prevent premature appearance. Freezing temperatures while not killing a young plant in the fall will most certainly retard growth, preventing optimum bulb size. The choice for the most favourable planting date can be dicey. Not having access to a crystal ball with future determinism built in, you want a date that is cool to cold, with little or a brief period of warming ahead that might promote above ground growth.
SEED (clove) SELECTION:
I have planted individual cloves that are fully wrapped in their skins, partially wrapped and fully naked, all 3 for experiment and due to; “quick I need a few others”. Here in Canada, almost 95% of known garlic planted is of the hardneck variety. This means that there is a central stem surrounded by individual cloves, which in turn are surrounded by several layers of wrappers themselves. They all appear and grow splendidly.
Garlic is said to clone itself. This does not mean that if we plant a 2″ clove it will produce bulbs with giant sized cloves. Plant your average cloves and you will get great garlic, hotter than a sidewalk in July, as I have year after year.
Avoid cloves that are soft, have brown blemishes or are otherwise suspect. If you plan on experimenting with different varieties, keep good records of what and where these cloves are planted. It’s possible to begin a crop using the bulbils saved from the mature scapes, but few growers do this since you will have to replant again the following year, to produce full sized bulbs.
Why would anyone desire this when a regular clove works wonders? I like to soak my cloves in a dilute mixture of seaweed, available at many farm supply outlets here in NS. Soak for a few hours, no longer. Soaking is helpful for destroying any soil or air born pathogens. How dilute? Look on the label. If all else fails, follow instructions goes the cliché.
In the very beginning in those mid 1990’s, I bought some garlic at the supermarket, likely Chinese even then. It was infertile and in all likelihood irradiated to prevent against disease contamination. If your seed does not have any shoots attempting to grow from the inside as I depict further down, than it may not be fertile. Buy or plant from a well known source and preferably from a local farmer’s market, asking if it is organic, meaning no chemical sprays or fertilizers. Why? The choice of what we put on the table to eat for ourselves, our offspring or our guests is ours.
Why increase the dose within the chemical soup that we are already ingesting unbeknownst to us? These chemicals are not part of human evolution. Yes, some people smoke or drink or eat GMO’s and like George Burns, do it publicly on TV after the age of 100. You pays your $$ and you takes your chances. Yet garlic is so hardy that it requires zero pesticide, herbicide and other petroleum based fertilizers.
My beds are raised. Initially, the reason was for older age gardening with reduced bending. Now I see this as conserving of soil materials, ease of weeding even mobility of movement within the enclosure. Yet most importantly, it gives the micro root structure all the support it desires for continuous growth, vide — large bulbs. There are sub reasons such as increasing the lower level soil moisture availability and ease of green manure tilling by hand etc. That’s an entirely new discussion.
I placed the horse manure at the very bottom since it had the potential to burn any young plants. I layered in mushroom compost, peat moss and top soil. I did not till. That’s what bugs do. The insects, beetles, earthworms and micro fauna do nature’s work free of charge. Just give them the dirt and they will produce the goods. All manipulation of the soils in the beds is done by hand with a shovel and fork. I never stand in the beds which only serves to compress the earth and close out circulation and air entrainment. It’s in the spaces that the critters do their good deeds. I need space between the rows for transporting any amendments to and from the beds I would be presently working on. Rake it level and poke holes in rows for planting deep.
The depth one plants is also a crap shoot. Usually it is done to prevent freezing, although garlic is quite hardy. I generally make a 4″ deep hole, placing the clove root end down. Some say that is too deep since our winters are no longer as severe. True, but can we take that chance by assuming what has been happening will continue to? Perhaps. Perhaps not, since as I compose this tome in late January, here in NS we have been experiencing deep freezing with overnight temperatures between -12º — 23ºC for several weeks now. A regular winter.
The distance you separate rows from each other as well as plants from each other, within rows is merely choice. Closer together on both counts produces more bulbs but they are smaller. Planting further apart, will reward the gardener with giant bulbs having tall robust healthy stems. My pattern is about 8″ sq. I can plant 60 cloves in one 4′ x 8′ bed, i.e., 5 rows of 12 plants ea. 120 plants provide me with plenty of seed to choose from the next fall and lots of great eating with a few for gifts and barter.
Straw is the very best. Don’t use hay as it’s full of seeds, which can last several years. Ask me why I know this? hahahahaha Sawdust just becomes soggy as does shavings. I have used leaves to great success, but avoid oak leaves as they have excess tannin, are slow to decompose, which can present issues for young green shoots poking up through or between. I like lots of mulch, usually 6″ – 10″. Since the beds are raised, the cloves are much more exposed to winter freezing, especially on the outside rows.
I saw this outside row freezing early in Jan. this year, digging frozen carrots and beets. They were still quite good although the carrots were tinged by a slightly soapy taste. In spring, avoid straining plants by waiting for a few shoots to appear. I then lift the mulch, helping the very tender yellowish shoots, which are usually bent over, to become upstanding. They enjoy this compassionate embrace and reward me later with a burnt mouth and complaints from non-garlic people of bad breath. Don’t these whiners know it’s just garlic breath which is not bad? hahahahaha You can leave the winter mulch in place, as it’s excellent for eliminating weeds and keeping the ground moist after rain or watering.
MAINTENANCE THROUGH the GROWING SEASON:
There’s really not much to do. Water, if there’s no rain. There’s no need for heavy soaking since the plants have this incredible depth to penetrate down into and they will, as attested to by my images. That’s 22″ or 506mm of soil depth growth. Not easy on land without deep tilling or soft under layers. No hand operated tiller goes down that low that I am aware of. There may be an occasional errant weed that needs your attention. But the soft damp soil provides little resistance for weeds to strongly anchor. We have buried our fertilizers, so no more are required. The garlic I have planted has never been insect ridden. The soil is greatly cared for as it is of the utmost value.
In late June or early July, the plants now at least 4′ high or higher, will begin to produce tall solid feeling shoots called scapes. These are a delicacy and can be eaten raw, chopped finely in a salad, or put into soups, stews, or stir fries. The bulbous end produces little cloves called bulbils. These too can be consumed, crushing is easiest as then there’s no need for wrapper removal.
The tapered shoot beyond that is a tick fibrous to my palette, but probably can be cooked. If you cut these off once they get to about 12″ – 16″, more of the nutrition and growing becomes concentrated into the bulb. I’ve done my own studies with identical seed size and growth beside each other and there is usually a 10% size difference between comparable bulbs. I chop, blanch, (2 min.) then freeze extra scapes, for use later in the season. Leave a few on in each region of growing for marker indication as to harvest time.
WHEN to HARVEST?:
First of all, avoid any heavy watering the closer time gets to harvest. Heavy watering now, has the potential to expand the bulb before the wrapper can encircle and protect it. The real growing micro roots, are very deep in the earth and the large roots are for stability, really, just like the flying buttresses on European cathedrals. Harvesting is perhaps the most controversial and difficult aspect of garlic growing. My sense and there is some indication of this, is that garlic is a cool weather plant. It really objects to sustained hot summer days.
In ON~Terrible, my plants would keel over in early July, once 30ºC + ‘daze’ became established with +high 20ºC nights. Here is NS, we have for most summers received few of those temperature extremes, but they are increasing. It’s hotter on the Valley floor than it is here on the side of the North Mountain. As George Monbiot of the Guardian tells it, climate change is morphing into climate breakdown. Since I am located on the side of the North Mountain facing south, we can get air masses descending over the mountain top originating from the cooler Fundy Shore or hotter air masses sweeping up the Valley floor from Yarmouth and Digby, originating from lower latitudes. Changes, oh these changes!
Here are some tell tale signs to look for:
- Look for those scapes you left to become almost dead straight.
- Look for dried and dead brown leaves on the bottom layer and progressively higher up the stalk. **Not all dry though. Perhaps waiting for all the leaves to turn brown will be far too late.
- **Feel the stem of the plant directly above the ground. If soft, the plant is on its last legs and headed south just like snowbirds. If still firm, there’s growth there.
- Dig a plant that has several of these indications. Never pull garlic, dig it.
- Here’s the rub: use all of these determinants for an indication of when you wish to harvest the *entire crop*. My experience has taught me that no single one of these is completely correct.
What is not wanted, are bulbs with wrappers that have separated from the cloves, letting in wet or dry air. These will not keep for long. Wet air can bring mould and disease; dry air will prematurely dehydrate the garlic cloves, shortening storage life.
HOW to HARVEST:
Dig them! If you pull the plants, undoubtedly some of the wrappers will be ripped off. Each wrapper is a green leaf that completely surrounds the bulb, protecting the cloves from all manner of defects as well as giving you the eater or seller, a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labour well into the following June. Just brush off the dirt when damp and freshly dug and avoid using a hose to clean them. Watering shortly before harvest is quite counter productive in my view. When you have the bulbs above ground, do not bang the dirt off them. Do not drop them on the ground bumping them against other bulbs. Garlic is like a tender young woman, bruising easily, often just by a look or glance. Hahahahaha Girls, it must be psychosomatic for garlic too…don’t you think?
CURING or DRYING:
This area has produced mixed results for me, because I have not properly set up a station that is fool proof. I mentioned that early on, I dried my crop on the garage floor in Brighton. The unpainted surface likely wicked out valuable moisture and oils from the newly dug plants. Lying then on wood can produce identical results that as a gardener, and grower, you do not want. Leave the stems attached to the bulbs and stand them upside down in a bulb holder or lay them on a table so that the bulb hangs in empty air.
I did this in my carport last year and they were coming along beautifully until late Aug., when we got heavy rains and the gravel floor of the carport temporarily flooded. My bulbs immediately developed black stain and I panicked cutting the stems probably a week or two earlier than I had wished. In 2011, I put them in the garage but closed the door and then journeyed to Tibet on a junket. The bulbs moulded in there since there was zip for air circulation. See, this just goes to show that a little bit of knowledge is indeed, dangerous! hahahaha
It may be best for one to lay them on a non absorptive surface, directing a fan of fresh air over the bulbs. This may be the ticket. Even a special drying room with a slightly higher temperature may prove more beneficial at this stage. Continuing again with last year’s harvest, I placed all the bulbs in the mechanical room with a small Sears dehumidifier. The temperature rose close to 40º C. Far too hot and I feared for some excessive drying of the bulbs. Most are OK as I eat them and give away my surplus. There are some brown spots since garlic bruises easily. Yes, I dropped them on the ground when I dug them. Little by little I accumulate all the knowledge gleaned from successive years of planting etc. feeling confident enough to compose this report.
Don’t cut the stems until they have shrunk and are quite hard. If you prematurely cut the stems off, the wrappers will slide down away from the hard neck cut end, (notice the bulb stem in the 1st image) exposing air into the clove body of the bulb. Leave an inch or so of stalk. So, you thought that this growing, harvesting, curing etc. would be a snap. Well, it is, but listen to your plants and if someone is sharing their growing experience with you, focus on their understanding and listen to their story. Put what is written here through your own filters and then come Oct., grab seed and get growing.
Garlic can be host to soil diseases with moulds, fungus etc. as blight becomes plight for the gardener. The large cultivated bulbs also take a great deal of goodness from the soil, this soil nourishment needs to be replenished. To counteract any semblance of disease and soil nutrition deprivation, it’s best to immediately seed the area in buckwheat which will aid in cleaning the soil. Just before the seedheads (groats) of the buckwheat open, this means the flower stage, turn the buckwheat back into the soil. The plant will also act as green manure. Immediately after you have turned the buckwheat, in late summer or early fall, plant winter rye grass as a cover crop and also as a green manure crop. Winter will halt rye grass growth but growth will magically resume in early spring.
Again, in late spring or early summer, just before the seeds mature on the rye, turn this in and plant clover for the next 3 years. This means you are dedicating this field or box plot to garlic rotation. Give it 4 years. All this will add nitrogen to the soil as well as cleansing the earth if it needs this and even if it doesn’t. Yah, it’s a great oxymoron even as I keyed it in.
I have had success in storing garlic in onion bags elevated off the floor in my food room. A refrigerator may not be a good idea, as it is overly cold and in time the fridge will suck out vital moisture, dehydrating the oil from the cloves, even if left in bulb formation. I do however, in May & June, place remaining bulbs in the fridge, since I as yet have no root cellar and the food room becomes too warm and damp. Yes, the garlic does become drier and less oily as summer comes on but, it’s what I do. That is a special purpose room inside the house, completely isolated with an insulated fibreglass door at the entry point.
The room is fed by 2 ducts from outside. Supply air goes to the floor, while exhaust air is taken off close to the ceiling. Each duct is equipped with a blast gate for closing the room completely or adjusting the temperature and humidity. I’ve yet to experiment with this. There is also need of more shelving to be placed in that space. As yet, I have not pickled nor placed unwrapped cloves in oil although I know this is done with great success. Perhaps as it is still not too late, I will attempt this with some help from Mrs. GOOGLE. D’ya think ‘she’s’ gender neutral?
Readers may think why is this section here? Well the chemical substance responsible for all the helpful health benefits is allicin. It is produced by chewing, crushing or cutting.
There are 2 enzymes in raw garlic: alliin and alliinase. Upon cutting, chewing or crushing raw garlic, these 2 enzymes chemically combine to form allicin. Many articles suggest that this organosulfur compound is mostly responsible for the anti-cancer properties of garlic. As a side note, these organosulfur compounds are also hugely responsible for the health of our human sexuality. Allicin does not form if cooked immediately, since heat destroys this beneficial compound if not allowed to form initially. Cut or better yet, crush the garlic *10 min. prior to heating* or cooking.
Dr. Michael Greger is mainly responsible for the Nutrition Facts.Org website. This site has become my food and health bible, in lieu of far too many urban myths and supposed knowledge based traditions, founded solely on good intentions. As my Pa would state: “Such is life!”
This writing about warps up if you will, the full extent of my garlic adventures to the present moment. There’s yet a ton of good data and more experience on the Net and by all means dig in and get growing. I personally eat between 1 & 2 good sized cloves each day, adding it to everything I cook and really like it best, sliced thinly, eaten raw in sandwiches or as Pa taught us the Hungarian method of ingestion, rubbing a clove on toast or hard bread.
If you’ve read down this far and live local or would pay shipping if you live distant, I still have an overabundance of garlic as I did plan on selling some this past year but time caught up with me and … I’d be interested in bartering or selling.
I Am, John Otvos aka jayöh.