Garlic Secrets: Things you may not know about the most versatile of products
Ahhh, garlic. Such a popular additive to so many dishes and a wonderful food in its own right. Garlic has been a staple in cooking and gardening for many many years but how did it achieve this cult status? Let’s explore the very cool world of growing garlic.
Three Secrets About Planting Garlic
- Secret #1: The best time to plant garlic (especially in the Upper Midwest and even the Bold North) is in the fall. Planting seeds in early September lets the plant get established before it goes dormant for the Winter. Cold temps allow the single clove to split and form multiple cloves for next year’s harvest. This cycle allows for a June/July harvest.
- Secret #2: Soaking the “seeds” in a water and baking soda solution (one tablespoon in a quart jar) will help the seed pre-sprout and will also help prevent ground rot. A couple of other tips about garlic “seeds”:
- Each clove is a seed – selecting the largest cloves to re-plant will help lead to the largest bulbs in next year’s crop
- Keep as much of the paper on the clove as possible – this will help protect the clove until it sprouts and minimize rot
- Secret #3: Planting garlic properly will help maximize your plants. First, make sure your soil is plenty loose – is necessary, amend your soil with compost to add nutrients and allow the garlic room to grow. Plant individual cloves about 4” apart and if you are doing multiple rows, those would be 4” apart as well. Plant the cloves with the pointy end up – that is where the sprout will come from! For best results, dig a 3” trench and fill the bottom of the trench with compost. Gently push the clove into the compost and cover with soil. Water in the seeds to get the growth process started.
We often get asked if a raised garden bed like an Eco Garden is good for garlic – and the answer is absolutely. You can actually plant a little closer together – about 2.5” – 3” – based on how an Original Garden works. Check out this link for more information: https://ecogardensystems.com/ecosystem/
Three Secrets About Growing Garlic
- Secret #1: Select varieties that thrive in your gardening zone. In Minnesota (and other states with very cold Winters) hardneck garlic is recommended (the “hardneck” refers to the core of the stalk or Garlic Scape).
- Secret #2: Harvest the “Garlic Scape” to allow the bulb to maximize its size. The garlic scape is the flowering stalk that emerges a few weeks before the garlic is ready to harvest. This stalk can be used sort of like chives – it has a mild garlic flavor and can add some subtle garlic notes to many dishes.
- Secret #3: Garlic, like potatoes, has to be pulled out to see if it is ready for harvest – a little self-defeating!! Fortunately, garlic sends you signals when it is ready. Since the leaves grow from the bottom up and turn brown when the bulb is ready for harvest, closely monitor the leaves towards the bottom of the plants – when they turn brown (early to mid-July) you should be ready to go.
Here is a quick time lapse of growing garlic: Garlic Time Lapse
Three Secrets About Harvesting Garlic
- Secret #1: When you pull out a test bulb to check on maturity, cut it in half (cut across all the cloves). If the cloves fill out the skin, bulbs are ready to harvest. As mentioned above, wait until the lower leaves turn brown to even think about a test bulb.
- Secret #2: When the leaves begin to brown, cut back on watering (you can actually stop) as the stress will help the garlic fully ripen and cure the garlic while it is still in the ground. Some of your leaves will still be green – if you wait too long your garlic will begin to separate from the stalk.
- Secret #3: Always dig up your garlic – never pull up on the remaining leaves. Use a hand trowel or garden fork and give the bulb plenty of room. If you slice open a bulb, you can still use it, but you will no longer be able to store that particular bulb. Allow your garlic to “cure” for three or four weeks – leave the soil on the roots and leave all leaves intact. This will provide you with the best overall garlic experience.
Check out the image below from The Spruce for a complete garlic growing guide.
Three Bonus Secrets About Cooking with Garlic
- Secret #1: Start your garlic in a cold pan with oil. This prevents the “quick burn” that often happens when we throw garlic into a sizzling pan. That great garlic aroma (and wonderful golden color) turns quickly into a scorched aroma and dark brown garlic. Like a good roux, continuously stir your garlic as the oil heats – you can still lose it if you are not careful!
- Secret #2: Let your chopped garlic sit for 10-15 minutes before adding it to any recipes. This lets oxygen interact with stored enzymes and allows the complex nutrient base in the garlic to maximize.
- Secret #3: Use those garlic scapes!! From pickling to chopping to sautéing, this bonus from the wonderful garlic plant adds a mild garlic flavor and a textural element to your dishes.
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