• Lucas Holman: The most wonderful time of the year: Garlic

    By Lucas Holman -

    I’m not sure how many of you enjoy eating garlic, but in my household we use it as a condiment. Bonnie Beth and I enjoy it cooked, sautéed and even raw in bruschetta.

    I grew up in a household deprived of garlic, because my mother never enjoyed the smell of it. Whenever I got older, I then fully appreciated garlic and became obsessed with learning everything I could about this delectable bulb. One of the main reasons we plant garlic is vampire prevention. Ever since we started growing garlic five years ago, we have never had a vampire attack at our house. I’m just stating the facts.

    The best time to plant garlic is in the fall preferably between October and November. Garlic is one of those unique crops because you plant it in the fall and harvest it in the early part of summer. In the fall, it will put out its roots and develop a small leaf above ground. During this time, it is acclimating itself to the surrounding ground and preparing itself for winter. It prefers loose, well-drained soil that will not be in a low spot in the garden. Garlic does not like to have “wet feet” and needs the soil to drain. If the soil does not drain, root rot can happen, and your crop will fail during the winter.

    There are two main types of garlic – softneck and hardneck. Typically, softneck varieties prefer warmer climates, and hardnecks need colder climates. The one main difference is that hardneck varieties form a flowering stalk and softneck varieties do not flower. If you go into a restaurant and see a beautiful braid of garlic, it is softneck, because you cannot braid hardneck garlic due to its hard flowering stem.

    It’s a good practice to break off the flowers from the hardneck varieties to send all of that energy to the bulb. Tennessee is a great growing environment for either type.  When planting garlic, you only plant each individual clove instead of planting the entire bulb. When you break up each bulb, most bulbs will yield anywhere from seven to 14 cloves. Each clove needs to be spaced 6 inches apart and planted 2 inches deep. After they’ve been planted, I typically put a layer of straw over the top to help with weed suppression. I only use a thin layer of straw, and it seems to help greatly to prevent those weed seeds from germinating. When planting, it’s best to use a low nitrogen fertilizer, because you want to focus on root growth instead of leaf growth. In the springtime, it’s best to use a higher nitrogen fertilizer about the first week of April. After April, don’t fertilize anymore, because the plant will be developing the bulb. If you fertilize a lot in May and June, you’ll have beautiful green plants and tiny bulbs at the base of the plant.

    Everyone has his or her own way to determine when garlic is ready to harvest. I like to harvest my hardnecks when the bottom two to three leaves have completely turned brown. The rest of the leaves are green and still growing. Each green leaf represents a paper shell around the bulb, and you need six to seven shells around the garlic to help with the storage process. Softneck garlic needs to be harvested when the top bends over at the neck, much like an onion.

    Once they’ve been harvested, you need to cure them in an open area that is out of direct sunlight. I like to hang them from the rafters in my barn. I’ve seen people hang them on their back porch also, but make sure sun will not hit them. This curing process will help the bulbs last anywhere from six to seven months. The curing process will usually take four weeks.

    I’ve grown quite a few different varieties, and they’re all great. Some of my favorites have been Purple Glazer, Krautini, Inchelium Red and Northern White. I’ve never really had a terrible variety of garlic; they all seem to grow great. If you can’t grow garlic, you should probably find a new hobby other than gardening. Be sure to experiment with a few different varieties and find the ones that you like the best.

    If you have any questions regarding vegetables or any other horticultural matter in your garden or lawn, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, horticulture UT-TSU Extension agent in Wilson County, at 615-444-9584 or [email protected].

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