No, not at all. A dollar’s worth of Garlic, ten dollars worth of information.
It happens every year when freshly harvested Garlic reaches Market. I should charge for advice, or say, “I’ll tell you if you buy some Garlic.”
So, here you are: Garlic FAQ!
“When do you plant yours?” October-November. “October? Really?” “Yes, really.” It will send up a small leaf or two. Mulch it with dry leaves, and the roots will develop underground all through cold weather. When the soil begins to warm (February or March), gently rake the mulch aside and cultivate between the bulbs.
What’s a Scape? You’ll see these at Market in May or June: they’re the “flower stalk” of some Garlic varieties. But instead of seed, they make small “bulbils” which can be replanted to (eventually) grow into bulbs. Usually we just snap off the scapes when they’re still tender, to use as a vegetable. This also leaves more nutrition for the bulbs.
How do you tell when it’s ready to dig? One way to keep track is to plant small irregular cloves thickly in their own row, and harvest them at scallion size for delicious Green Garlic. You will notice them begin to bulb around late April, so you can tell that the bulbs on the good thick stalks are developing too.
Should you wait till the leaves are all brown? Absolutely not. Each long flat leaf extends down to make a layer of wrapper around the bulb. Every one that withers is a layer of protection lost. When the bulbs are a good size, dig the garlic, no matter how green the leaves still are.
Should I cut the tops off or leave them on? Ever buy supermarket garlic and had it shrivel up inside the skin in a week or two? That’s because large-scale growers do cut the tops off to dry the garlic quickly and keep it in storage, and may use heat to dry it. They don’t care: it’s a commodity.* You leave the tops on, so the garlic will cure properly (see next FAQ). Yours is food.
How long should I let it dry? Ack! Bulb garlic doesn’t “dry,” it cures! That means that the moisture and nutrients in those green leaves are absorbed and sealed into the cloves. This keeps them plump and solid even in storage. I used last June’s garlic harvest well into this Spring.
Sorry, ain’t no short answers. Leave the tops on till they are completely dry and brittle and can be twisted off by hand. With hardneck varieties, you may have to cut the stalk.
What do you do with it? Geez, lady, what do you do without it? (The young lady had sniffed disdainfully and said she only liked Garlic Powder) See Recipes, next post.
* Difference between a “crop” and a “commodity:” a crop is meant principally to be grown, and eaten. A commodity is meant principally to be bought and sold. My investment broker friend Mark tells me the problem with commodities is that “the producer doesn’t get quality signals from the consumer.” So if something you like (apples, houses, health care, information) becomes a commodity, watch out!!