Patiently Growing the Paradoxical Garlic

October 19, 2012 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Photo by Luigi Rignanese.

Garlic lovers face a continual paradox. While flavorful garlic lends that special dish just what it needs, it can leave one’s breath smelling quite dreadful. Garlic has not always been disregarded because of its lingering odor, though. The ancient Romans and Egyptians held garlic in high regard as either a food or sacred plant. Thought to give them strength, Romans would eat raw garlic. As the Egyptians took an oath, they “ranked garlic next to the gods” (Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, Watson, 193).

In the past, many cultures did not use garlic for eating pleasure, but rather to heal ailments. Assyrians used garlic as an antibiotic. Thinking it would help relieve asthma, the Greeks consumed cooked garlic. During the Middle Ages, people believed garlic would help an individual avoid heatstroke. Amelia Simmons’s wrote of garlic in the 1796 American Cookery that  “Tho’ used by the French, [they] are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.”(Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, 228)  Today, garlic is thought to possibly help reduce cholesterol (Mayo Clinic).

Regardless of how garlic has been used in centuries past, it is evident that many cultures have found it helpful to cultivate for a multitude of reasons. Growing garlic is straightforward but requires patience during the winter and early spring months.

Fall Planting

Garlic is grown by planting cloves of garlic in the late fall months. Avoid rotting by selecting a soil that drains well. In loose soil, place the clove about two inches deep, pointy tip upright. Since garlic is asexually propagated, one can create a crop tailored to local conditions by carefully selecting the cloves that are planted. Simply save the biggest and best heads from the harvest to plant during the following fall season.

Photo by Ondřej Zicha

Spring Scapes

Hardneck cultivars such as Georgian ‘Chesnok Red’, Russian ‘Rosewood’, and ‘Ontario Purple Trillium’ will send up an elegantly curvedscape, or flower stalk, which can and really should be harvested for maximum bulb growth. If the scape is not harvested, the plant’s energy is directed towards the flower rather than towards producing a larger bulb. The scape itself can be sautéed or used to make pesto.

Summer Harvest

Once the leaves turn brown, it is time to harvest the garlic bulb. To harvest, loosen the soil around the bulb, being careful not to pierce or bruise it. After harvesting, allow the bulbs to dry for approximately two weeks. Once the garlic has dried, it can be used in various dishes or roasted alone.

Try to grow your own garlic and enjoy the bounty! As restaurant owner Alice May Brock once said, “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good” (thinkexist.com)

Erin Clark
Horticulturist
Smithsonian Gardens

http://www.gardens.si.edu

Entry filed under: Education, Garden History, Horticulture. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. smithsoniangardens  |  October 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    We wanted to give a shout out to Kristen Willis, Smithsonian Garden Summer Intern. Kristen and Erin wrote this article as a team effort. Good going Kristen!

    Reply

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