Few flavorings rival garlic. It’s pungent, exotic, powerful and scrumptious. Fabled uses of the stuff also include the warding off of vampires and the cure for what ails you. Historically, many serfs were forced to grow it as the King demanded it for taxes. Garlic has been a mainstay of most households for a long, long time.
Garlic is actually a highly unusual garden vegetable. Most of the things that we plant have a “season.” We plant them in the spring and we harvest them in the summer or fall. Garlic never stops growing. When it is in the ground, it is moving and changing. That’s why we have to harvest it in July—when it still has some protective layers of skin—and keep it dry until we go to use it or to plant it again in the fall.
The best garlic grows in the north. This is a hardy plant that actually thrives under the snow in the frozen tundra. We have our snow here in the northeast all winter long. Whatever falls from the sky going into winter stays on the ground until the spring. And, when that spring comes and everything outside is looking brown and dead, little green garlic shoots can be found poking up from their beds; all ready to go.
So, the time to plant garlic is actually six weeks before the ground freezes. Around here, that’s about mid-October. I generally plant my garlic where the potatoes were the year before. I have a three-year rotation of crops where plants in the same family only are grown in any given location once in that cycle. I like to give my plants lots of “extras.” By assuring that my crops have access to loads of organic matter and minerals, I know that this will translate into my veggies containing excesses of vitamins and minerals. These, then, will get into me.
First, I make sure that the garden bed is clean. Remove all leaves, twigs, weeds and rocks. Then I add soil amendments; these include kelp meal, greensand and Azomite powder. You don’t necessarily need to use all of these (Azomite powder is a bit hard to find). I also put in a bucket or two of old compost or seasoned manure. I proceed by using a broadfork (or a pitchfork) to loosen the soil. You want the “bed” to be light and fluffy so that the plants won’t have to work too hard to send out roots. Raking it flat, we are ready to proceed.
Be sure to get your garlic sets at a nursery and not from the supermarket. Many garlics sold for food are treated with substances that make it hard for them to sprout. I use a dibble to poke a hole about 4 inches down into the ground. If you don’t have a dibble, a sharp stick would do the same job. Breaking the garlic cloves apart with a not-to-sharp knife, I set one clove into the hole being especially careful to plant the pointy end up. Moving about 4 inches away, I make another hole and plant another one. Once I come to the end of the row, I start another one. I leave the holes visible until I have completed three or four rows so that I can place them the correct distance apart.
When I do cover them, I just push the dirt over the top. After I finish, I water well, ask the garlic to “live well and prosper,” ask the gnomes and faeries to take good care of them and go inside to clean up.
I do use an old lawn chair pad on the ground in order to stay dry and also make it easier on the knees. Most of the time, I just sit and work and this makes it much more comfortable.
I love to use fresh garlic in stir-fries. I marinate cut up chicken in garlic and tamari or diced steak in Italian dressing and garlic. Chop an onion or two, add some red pepper and fry until soft (I like them REAL soft so I do it for 20 or 30 minutes). Add some mushrooms and when they are soft, throw in the chicken or steak. When thoroughly cooked, I usually add some frozen corn and peas. A sure hit at my dinner table!
In the winter, I use my own homemade garlic powder. We’ll discuss how to do that in a future blog. But for now, it’s time to get the garlic planted . . .
Celeste Longacre has been growing virtually all of her family’s vegetables for the entire year for over 30 years. She cans, she freezes, she dries, she ferments & she root cellars. She also has chickens.
Celeste has also enjoyed a longtime relationship with The Old Farmer’s Almanac as their astrologer!
Celeste's new book on living lightly on the Earth is due out September 25, 2014.