Garlic - Itís Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

John Shaffer
Adams County Master Gardener

Want to ward off coughs and colds, keep your heart healthy, kill bacteria or just keep Dracula at bay? Garlic may be the answer. Long thought to posses unique powers, it was chewed by the Greek Olympian athletes and worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. Today, a plethora of new studies are discovering the benefits of this wonder vegetable. Researchers are studying garlicís role as an anti-carcinogen, reducing cholesterol, killing bacteria, and use as an aphrodisiac.

"Wow! How do I get some of this great stuff?" Iím glad you asked. Fall is the best time of the year to plant garlic. As luck would have it, you are just in time to plant garlic for next yearís harvest. Allow me to share a few facts about growing garlic.

As with most crops, soil preparation is paramount. Although garlic thrives in well drained soil, it is tolerant when it comes to soil type and texture. Standing water could rot the bulbs in the ground. Preferably, the soil should be a friable sandy-clay-loam with a high organic content. Organic matter, such as well-composted manure, will increase the tilth of the soil. The pH should be in the 6.2 to 6.8 range. Soil test are available from the Penn State Extension Office. The test will determine the pH of you soil and offer suggestions to alter your soil for optimum results.

Garlic roots burrow deep so prepping the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches will be much appreciated by the plant. Till organic matter and/or manure into the soil to the same depth. Although over-tilling the soil can destroy the soilís structure, tilling the upper inches of the soil into a powder will aid in planting.

Split the bulbís wrapper and separate the whole cloves. For optimum results, donít do this more than 48 hours prior to planting to prevent them from drying out. Garlic is a bulb and bulbs need to be planted 4 to 6 weeks prior to the ground freeze. The idea is to get the bulbs into the ground while the weather is still warm enough for germination to occur and establish good root formation.

Most garlic bulbs should be planted, pointy side up, with the tips about 2 inches below the soil surface. However, elephant, (or Buffalo), garlic prefers a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Plant in 2 foot wide rows with 4 to 6 inch spacing.

Proper mulching is the secret to a successful harvest. Remember "KISS", Keep It Simple Stupid. The colder the winter weather, the more mulching is needed. The mulch maintains the temperature and moisture content at a happy medium for the crop during the colder months and controls weeds in the spring. Chop up your fallen leaves and utilize them as a warming blanket for your crop. Apply several inches immediately after planting and wet slightly to keep the mulch in place. Donít worry about over mulching. You can remove some of the mulch in spring once the threat of frost is over.

You will need to water regularly in the fall during germination. Start watering regularly again in the spring when the shoots are forming. Stop watering mid- to late June. Too much watering once the bulbs are finishing off and the wrappers are drying out could create mold or fungus problems.

Donít make the common mistake made by most novice garlic growers and wait too long to harvest. The bulbs will get larger but they will dry out and split, rendering them virtually useless. Harvest your crop when the lower third to one half of the leaves turn brown. Dig the bulbs out! If you attempt to pull them, the stalks will break.

Unless you are consuming the garlic immediately, do not wash the cloves or expose them to water. This will promote mold. To store your garlic you will need to cure it first. There are several ways to cure garlic, but the simplest way is to tie the bulbs with stalks in bunches and hang them a well ventilated place. Incidentally, the current world record for the longest string of garlic is 123 feet. Do not store in the refrigerator or an area subjected to high humidity. Store them where they will get plenty of air circulation and an even temperature of 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

So there you have it. I wish you the best of luck with your 2005 harvest. Personally, I may not have cured cancer with my harvest, but I can attest to its vampire deterring ability. I can honestly say that I can not remember the last time I saw a vampire!

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