This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.
Grow Garlic for the Health of It
For ages, garlic has been revered as food and medicine and for the magical properties it was once thought to possess. The Chinese knew of its healing and disease-preventing properties 5,000 years ago. It was fed to the builders of the Great Pyramids and was hung on the outside of houses throughout Europe to protect those within from witches and vampires.
Today, it is known that garlic can lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, and destroy bacteria and fungi. Studies indicate that it may even play a role in preventing heart disease and treating certain types of cancer. A sulfur-based compound known as allicin is responsible for garlic’s health-giving benefits as well as its pungent smell. Cooking will tame garlic’s pervasive odor and sweeten its taste, but high heat or overcooking may remove some of its beneficial properties.
Garlic just about grows itself, and if you cook at all, you should include some in your garden. There are two types of true garlic: hard-neck varieties, which are favored by experienced cooks for their rich flavor and ease of peeling, and the productive soft-necks, which are known for their keeping qualities.
Plant garlic in the fall after the first hard frost; this should give the plant time to establish good root growth before the ground freezes. Choose a sunny spot with fertile, well-drained soil. Separate the individual cloves from the bulbs, and plant them five inches apart and two inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Keep the soil moist during this critical rooting period. In areas where temperatures fall below 0°F (–18°C), apply a six-inch-deep layer of straw or pine needles as a winter mulch. The garlic will be ready to harvest in mid- to late summer, depending on the variety. As the bulbs mature, the foliage will start to brown. When only five to six leaves remain on the plant, dig up the bulb as you would an onion.
Garlic is a proven pest repellent, and when planted throughout the garden, it protects other crops from insects and animal pests. It seems that garlic is just as beneficial for plants as it is for us.