Used for thousands of years in the Middle East, garlic is beloved worldwide for its flavor. Ancient civilizations also recognized its health-giving uses. The sulfur compounds that give garlic its pungency also contribute to its medicinal properties.
Garlic may decrease the incidence of the common cold, help prevent some forms of cancer and reduce high blood pressure. It has antioxidant properties and the active compound, diallyl sulfide, has been found to fight infection and protect the heart. Garlic oil is used to treat some fungal skin infections.
Garlic is most effective when crushed and allowed to rest for a few minutes, then eaten raw or mixed with olive oil. Heating reduces its beneficial effects.
Garlic leaves have a spiky appearance that lends a strong vertical accent in the garden. The plants are attractive when the curly, edible flower spikes form in midsummer
Garlic is usually planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. Plant in the fall after the first frost when the soil is cool. Break apart a garlic bulb and separate the individual cloves, but do not peel them. Plant the cloves, pointy end up, about 3″ deep and 6″ to 8″ apart. They grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. Fertilize with organic granular fertilizer, then cover with 6″ of straw mulch for the winter.
In the spring, pull the mulch away to allow the soil to warm up. Fertiilze again and keep well weeded. Water as needed to keep soil moist but not soggy.
Garlic can also be planted in early spring, but bulbs will be significantly smaller than fall-planted garlic.
Harvest & Keeping
Garlic flowers and stalks are the first part to be harvested and they are delicious. Snip off flower stalks when they begin to curl and eat them as you would scallions.
Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest when the lowest one-third of the leaves turn yellow or wither. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and pull up a bulb to check for maturity. Harvest when the wrappers are still intact, before the cloves begin to separate.
After digging the bulbs, allow them to air dry in a warm, well-ventilated, protected area away from direct sun. Lay them in a single layer. After a week, snip the roots to 1/2″ long and brush off the soil. After another week, trim the tops to 1″ to 2″ above the bulb .Do not peel off the wrappers. Store at 50º to 60º in mesh bags. Bulbs keep for about 4 to 6 months.
High doses of fresh garlic can increase bleeding and is not recommended for pregnant and breast-feeding women.