Garlic (Allium sativum). Nature’s superfood.
Nearly 3000 years ago, an Egyptian doctor wrote in the Ebers Papyrus that garlic could cure twenty-four common ailments. Tumors. Heart disease. Lack of stamina. Sexual dysfunction. Feel weak? Eat garlic. A long way to walk? Eat garlic. Mosquito problems? Eat garlic. Bladder control issues? Eat garlic. Asthma? You guessed it: eat garlic.
Tutankhamen was buried with cloves of garlic at his side. The Greeks made offerings of garlic to the goddess Hecate. Olympic athletes were fed garlic prior to competitions. Hippocrates reportedly used garlic vapors to treat cervical cancer. Sanskrit medical treatise, such as the Charaka Samhita and the Navanitaka promised that garlic would work as an aphrodisiac, cure illness and promote a long life. The Ayurvedic medical system also encouraged the use of garlic. The Chinese and the Jains did not use garlic as a food. Garlic was medicine. In Medieval Europe garlic offered protections against the plague and vampires.
And it tastes good. Very good. AND, it can keep the mother-in-law and other unwelcome relatives out of your hair. If you eat enough of it.
For as long as humans have written about food, they have never failed to mention garlic. This is special stuff.
Garlic probably originated in Central Asia and has been cultivated since Neolithic times. It is a member of the lily family and is closely related to onions, shallots, leaks and chives. The modern word garlic possibly comes from Old English word garleac, or “spear leek”. The word may also have older Angle and/or Saxon origins: gar, meaning spear and lac meaning plant.
Garlic prefers rich, sandy, slightly moist soil and ample sunlight. The leaves tend to be long, narrow and flat. The bulb is made up of numerous bulbets or cloves (the seed) which are themselves grouped together and encased in a very thin, white, paper-like skin. The flowers of the garlic plant appear in an umbel shape at the end of the stalk rising direct from the bulb and are whitish, grouped together in a globular head, or umbel.
Also known as the “stinking rose,” garlic, when crushed releases allinaise, an enzyme that changes amino acids in the garlic to allicin, a molecule containing sulphur. It is that allicin that produces the wonderfully pungent garlic smell that makes your mouth water and your skin stink. Not to mention…ahhh….garlic breath. And that allicin is known to kill upwards of twenty-tree types of bacteria!
It’s the process that creates that lovely stench that makes garlic the wonder that it is.
So DIG IN!
On this site, you’ll find out how to:
• Select the appropriate garlic varieties
• Determine an appropriate location for your garlic bed
• Prepare a bed for planting
• Care for garlic until they mature
• Control pests and diseases
• Harvest and store your garlic
• Learn about a few of the more interesting aspects of garlic, its history and its amazing health properties.
How to Grow Garlic Effectively
While garlic is highly adaptable to local climates, I recommend seeking out a truly local garlic variety or varieties to being with. Talk to other gardeners in your area to see what they are growing. Many people have worked to adapt their garlics to local growing conditions. Rocamboles and Silverskins appear to be the most forgiving.
That said, when I put my garlic in last fall, I simply went to the local organic food store, plucked three or four varieties from the produce area and tossed them in the dirt under my fruit trees. They all turned out magnificent and I wish I had planted more (note that crossbreeding is not a problem with garlic so feel free to plant as many different varieties as you would like)! This method may not work for you as many garlics you’ll find in the store are treated with some kind of growth inhibitor. I may have just gotten lucky.
If you want to get technical, look for a sunny area that has deep, fertile and very well-drained soil. Add sand, a little bit of gravel or potting mix if your soil holds too much water. You don’t want your garlic sitting in cold, damp soil in the fall and winter. The constant wet can bring on all manners of fungus, disease and rot. Also consider adding a complete organic fertilizer (5N – 10P – 10K) and possibly growing your garlic in a raised bed. You want soil pH to be above 6.0 but below 8.0. As with any planting a good layer of compost (not to mention bi-weekly additions of a ‘side-dressing’) will prove very beneficial.
Oh. Keep in mind that garlic does not like competition. Picky. Picky. Be sure to keep your garlic bed properly weeded.
Plant your garlic sometime between early autumn (cooler areas) and early winter (warmer areas). Pull the fattest cloves from your ‘seed’ stock (‘crack’ them from the bulb) and put them, root end down, into the soil. I ‘crack’ my cloves as I plant them. If you take the cloves from the bulb more than 24 hours before planting, the root nodules will dry out and may inhibit quick establishment of the roots. Try to get them about one inch deep and four-six inches apart.
If you are seeking a higher yield in terms of pounds of garlic per square foot of garden space, place your beds closer together in order to get a larger number of small bulbs. If you’re doing hardnecks, be sure to plant the clove with the pointed end up and try to get it about two inches deep.
While the weather is warm, the garlic will sit dormant for a few weeks then it will begin developing its root structure and a shoot. Growth will slow as the daily temperature drops. The deep winter cold is a must for the growth of the side buds. These side buds will later become the cloves once spring begins. It is possible to plant your garlic in the spring but most gardeners recommend against it as there is no time for the root structure to grow and the lack of the winter hit will most likely inhibit the growth of the cloves.
If you’re into companion planting, consider growing your garlic with your roses and/or raspberries. Many gardeners say that garlic gives a significant boost to your beats and cabbage. Thanks to its natural fungicidal and pesticidal properties, garlic will do fine with most anything, but keep it away from your peas, potatoes and especially your beans!
Don’t let the soil dry out.
When garlic is busy developing its leaves, dry soil can severely limit your yield. Garlic that is water-stressed can often cancel the growth of the cloves, opting instead for a survival strategy of one fat, tasteless clove. No water, no garlic. But don’t overwater! Overwatering will get you nothing but low-quality cloves. The point is to keep the soil moisture moderate and constant over time.
To do this, mulch the soil with dried grasses, bark, gravel or straw. In fact, you may want to consider a thick layer (three to four inches) of mulch as soon as you have planted your cloves. It will help moderate the temperature and moisture level of the soil as well as keep down weeds.
Also consider adding a bi-weekly side-dressing of compost and be sure to keep the garlic properly weeded. It hates competition.
Hardneck varieties will send up a ‘scape’. The scape is a central stock that makes a loop with a tiny bulb on its end. You’ll want all the plant’s energy to go into bulb production so be sure to snip the scape off after it has looped. The scape is edible. In fact, it is delicious. You can fry them in butter or add them to your stir fry. The taste is only slightly garlicky and very rich. Yum!
Garlic is a wonder plant for gardeners. Besides its co-planting benefits noted above, garlic oil is well-known for repelling slugs. Just a thin barrier of garlic oil repels slugs. When slugs approach the garlic barrier they turn around. Often, they die. Why? It’s unclear. One study theorized that the garlic kicks the mucus membranes of the slugs in to over-production, thus drying them out.
While growing garlic is easy, harvesting can be a challenge.
First, stop watering your garlic a few weeks prior to harvest. When is this? You’ll get a different answer from every gardener you ask. It really is a question of experience. Don’t pay attention to the calendar, pay attention to the plant. Generally, you are close to harvest when the lower leaves are about half brown or when the entire plant is about half brown (July and early August). Another method requires pulling up one of the plants once the top part of the plant is brown. Then you count the number of sheaths. Two to three sheaths indicate harvest time. If the bulb has begun to split, you are too late.
If you pull them up too early (as I did last year) the bulb will be under formed and won’t store well. If you leave them in the ground too long the protective parchment can rot or the root can develop fungal problems. Some gardeners I’ve spoken to say that you really only have a window of 5-7 days to harvest correctly.
Pick a dry day to harvest.
To remove the garlic, take a flat shove and gently loosen the dirt around them. Garlic can bruise easily and bruised garlic does not keep well. Don’t bump it, don’t bounce it. Don’t drop it.
Brush the soil from the bulbs and leave them to dry for a week to ten days. But don’t leave them out in the direct sun as they may burn. Dry your garlic under cover in a cool, dry place. A car port or covered patio will work nicely. Once dry, trim off the roots and braid for storage.
Be sure to remember that, if you are careless as you harvest your garlic, you may ruin the crop. Take your time and do it right.
The Silverskins (soft-necks) tend to be the longest storing garlics. Porcelains (hardnecks) are the second-longest storing.
Store your garlic in a dry, well-ventilated place when the temperature hovers around 50F. Any lower than that and you could get premature growth of your garlic. Sometime in late autumn, check your garlic braids for soft bulbs. This will be a sign of rot or insect damage. Throw any soft bulbs out so they don’t infect the rest of the crop.
Depending on the species, garlic can keep for 6-12 months.
Store your seed bulbs separately from the bulbs you intend to consume. Do not remove the cloves from the bulbs until it is time to plant. Store them in a cool place but not a cold place.
Types of Garlic
There may be upwards of six-hundred types of garlic being grown world-wide.
Botanists have recently identified ten distinct and overarching varieties of garlic: Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Creole, Asiatic, Turban, Artichoke and Silverskin.
These types can be even further simplified as hardnecks (Ophioscorodon) and softnecks (Sativum). The hard-neck garlics (purple stripe, porcelains, asiatics, rocamboles) are often thought of as more colorful and more tasteful with fewer yet larger cloves on each bulb than the softnecks (silverskins, artichokes). They do better in cooler climates (the rocamboles and purple stripes love frigid winters and cool, wet springs) but require more effort to grow as they must have their scapes snipped off and must also be planted right side up. Because softnecks are easier to plant mechanically, mature faster and are adaptable to a wide range of climates, nearly all the garlic we see in our supermarkets comes from this sub-group – particularly silverskins. The flexible stocks of softskins also make this sub-group easier to plait and store. It is thought that the original, wild garlics were all hardnecks while the softnecks are the result of millennia of selective breeding.
The different varieties have uses that go beyond their ability to be planted mechanically or not. Roasting Garlic? Try the Purple Stripes. You can ID these types by noticing the rather vibrant purple stripes running down the wrapper. They are large and rich tasting. Once roasted, their flavor is incredibly sweet. The very large cloves of the Porcelains, on the other hand, are very pungent, even spicy, and are best used when you’d like to achieve a smokier flavor. Rocamboles have a dirty brown appearance but tend to be the favorite of garlic lovers.
Whatever the variety, remember that almost all garlics seem to be highly adaptable and after a few seasons in your garden you’ll have a sub-type that works for you!
Sample Garlic Types
- Yugoslavian garlic
- Wild Buff garlic
- Dan’s Russian garlic
- Magical garlic
- Fish Lake Three garlic
- Georgian Crystal garlic
- Georgian Fire garlic
- Leningrad garlic
- Music garlic
- Magnificent garlic
- Italian garlic
- Ukrainian garlic
- Susan Delafield garlic
- Rosewood garlic
- Northern Quebec garlic
- German Stiffneck garlic
- German White garlic
- Siberian garlic
- Czech Broadleaf garlic
- Brown Tempest garlic
- Chesnok Red garlic
- Vekek garlic
- Red Rezan garlic
- Persian Star garlic
- Metechi garlic
- Bogatyr garlic
- Purple Glaze garlic
- Spanish Roja garlic
- Purple Max garlic
- Mountain Top
- Korean Purple garlic
- Killarney Red garlic
- German Red garlic
- Colorado Black garlic
- Bavarian Purple garlic
- Baba Franchuk’s garlic
Other garlic types
- Asian Tempest garlic
- Chinese Purple garlic
- Inchelium Red garlic
- Wildfire garlic
- Thai garlic
- Sweet Haven garlic
- Sicilian Gold garlic
The Health Benefits of Garlic
People have always seen garlic as a medicinal food. Hippocrates reportedly used garlic vapors to treat cervical cancer. During WWII, garlic poultices were placed on wounds as an effective alternative to hard-to-get anti-biotics.
Allopathic medicine is just now beginning to understand the potential health benefits of this amazing food. While some recent studies have cast doubt on certain health effects of garlic, others have supported long-held beliefs on the health effects. More research needs to done. Let’s take a quick look at some of the claimed benefits of garlic.
It seems to be all about the allicin.
When crushed, garlic releases allinaise, an enzyme that changes amino acids in the garlic to allicin, a molecule containing sulphur. It is that allicin that produces the wonderfully pungent garlic smell that makes your mouth water and your skin stink. In every study I reviewed it turned out it is the allicin that seems to give nearly all the health benefits of garlic. Allicin is very fragile, however, and disappears quickly. There is much less of it in preserved garlic than in the freshly crushed kind.
Allicin has been shown to kill upwards of twenty-three types of bacteria. That includes such bad guys as staphylococcus and salmonella. It has long been claimed that the flu, the common cold and other infectious diseases are disrupted by the allicin in garlic.
Several studies found that garlic can suppress the growth of tumors. Still others showed garlic can reduce LDLs or “bad” cholesterol. One study from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) found that one clove of garlic a day could reduce cholesterol by 5-9 percent (although a 2007 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine questioned whether garlic might prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol). It has also been studied as a blood-thinning agent that could help avoid the blood clots that could lead to strokes and heart-attacks. These benefits appear to come from a “relaxing” affect the allicin has on blood vessels.
I’ve long taken garlic for my asthma. I’ve found that the garlic significantly reduces the inflammation in my lungs on bad days. This effect comes from allicin’s ability to inhibit certain inflammation producing enzymes that are a trigger for things like asthma and arthritis.
According to a widely quoted 2000 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating garlic is an excellent way to lower your risk of cancer. In fact, the study seemed to indicate a forty percent reduction in overall risk, just by eating garlic!! The authors were careful to note that the apparent benefit could have been due to increased total vegetable intake by the subject rather than just the garlic consumption. They also noted that it was unclear as to how much garlic needed to be consumed and for how long. A much larger follow up study published in 2006 found that, indeed, the consumption of onions and garlic can significantly reduce your cancer risk.
Yet another study published in the American Journal of Hypertension concluded that allicin may also be able to help you lose weight by regulating blood sugar and stimulating blood circulation!
Garlic also contains decent amounts of Vitamins A, B and C which are also known to help the body fight carcinogens and cleanse it of toxins. Some say it can even raise a man’s sperm count. Viagra out, garlic in!
One thing that none of the studies seem to agree on is just how much garlic you should consume but they all agree it should be consumed fresh.
Eat up! Garlic is good.
Garlic Troubleshooting Guide
Garlic is pretty tough.
That doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to run into some problems. Garlic is prone to several different diseases and pests. Most of these problems come directly from the soil so it is important that you rotate your crop every year.
Here are some of the most common problems you may run into with your garlic crop and what you might do about them.
Overwatering can cause rot. If you notice your plant yellowing or dying back, check a few of them and check the water content of the soil. If you see that rot is beginning to form, cut back on the watering.
Bulb mites will often grow under the roots of the bulb and can result in stunted garlic plants. They are white, shiny and fat. They can be very tough so they best way to deal with them is by rotating your garlic plantings.
The pea leafminer won’t cause you too many problems. They show up initially as tiny eggs laid within the leaf tissue. When they hatch, the larvae tunnel inside the leaves. When they mature, they leave the plant as tiny black and yellow flies. The tunneling done by the larvae is really no big deal to your garlic plant but you still want to be careful because these guys can pose a serious threat to other leafy plants nearby.
The wheat curl mite is another one that, while making your plant look pretty rough, doesn’t pose a serious threat. You’ll know you have it if the garlic leaves are streaked and twisted and overall growth stunted. The wheat curl mite can cause problems at harvest. Your cloves will dry out and crumble if its in there. This is another one that can be dealt with through a hot water treatment just before planting.
Basal Rot is a slow developing fungus, typical of warmer climates, that often causes the leaves of the plant to die back. Often times, symptoms of the rot are not even evident until post-harvest when you may note a white fungus at the bottom of the bulb. Keep an eye out for this once your garlic is hanging in storage.
White Rot, more typical of cooler climes, looks a lot like basal rot but white rot often tends to simply kill the garlic plant outright. This is a tricky one because while you can reduce the chance of white rot by dipping your seed clove in hot water right before planting, too high a temperature can kill your seed clove.
Downy Mildew looks like a whitish, furry growth on the leaves. They may also yellow. Young plants may die while older ones will see stunted growth. If you suspect downy mildew, check the garlic you’ve stored. It will be shriveled, have a blackened neck and might feel moist to the touch. Downy mildew can survive for years in the soil. It loves to be wet and is often transported by moving water so go for wide-spacing of your rows, good air circulation and avoid over watering.
Botrytis Rot, also known as “neckrot” will hit the stems with a gray fuzz. The stems will also fill with water. Typically, “neckrot” will hit your bulbs and/or plants in warm, wet weather so be sure to get your bulbs rapidly dried out before storage and make sure they get a lot of air circulation. Cooler storage temperatures may also help. In the garden, be sure to use disease free bulbs and again, space your rows and get lots of air between the plants.
Penicillium Decay looks like blue-green mass on your cloves. It will dramatically reduce the growth of your plants. Be sure your bulbs are properly dried before storage. When planting, take care to put the clove in immediately after it is ‘cracked’.
Nematodes show up in a multitude of ways. Common symptoms include erratic plant stand in the field, stunted plants, yellowing, deformed bulbs, and stem swelling. You’ll actually have to get your field tested by a lab if you want to find out about these little buggers. If you have them, you’ll want to rotate your plants away from them…if possible. They can move around quite a bit. A traditional way of dealing with them is giving the cloves a hot water soak right before planting.
You may find that you have other issues. Some genetic abnormalities can resemble disease symptoms. You might see a great variety of colors in the leaf of your plant. This is actually quite common and results in reduced photosynthesis or bulb deformation. Another common genetic problem may result in a breakdown of the outer cloves of garlic where sunken tissue will turn a dark yellow color.
Finally, the clove turns very soft, clear and sticky. There is not much you can do about this except to remove the problem cloves from your collection. Don’t plant them again!