After the excitement of planting the cool season edible garden subsides, there is still a must-grow plant that is maintenance-free and can be tucked into small spaces in the garden.
If you have not grown garlic in your fall garden before, now is the time. Typically, garlic is planted in mid-October, but here in Central Texas, we can plant it through early December when soil temperatures are still around 50 degrees. It might seem like an advanced crop to grow, but it is actually very easy. In fact, it’s a plant-it-and-forget-it crop, and the flavor of homegrown garlic far surpasses that of store-bought.
Because it is a long-season crop, it won’t be harvested until next summer, but the only thing you need to account for is patience and utilizing space in your garden bed for the next seven to eight months.
Cooking with your homegrown garlic and having seed stock for the following year is well worth it.
Garlic is a species in the onion genus, Allium. It is native to Central Asia and is used as both a pungent food flavoring and as a traditional medicine.
Historically, it is one of the earliest documented examples of plants being used for the treatment of disease and maintenance of health. It is still commonly used for aiding digestion, blood flow and immunity, and for treating earaches.
European settlers brought garlic to America where it was cultivated for food flavoring, but it was slow to be adopted by British colonists due to its strong flavor. Today, China is the leading producer of garlic in the world.
There are two subspecies of garlic with hundreds of cultivars. The different subspecies of garlic are hardneck and softneck. Typically the climate of the region where they are grown determines which type to grow.
Hardneck varieties are grown in cooler climates and produce large, flavorful cloves and a scape or false flower stalk in springtime.
Softneck varieties are grown in mild winter climates like ours. Softneck varieties produce smaller cloves with a more mild flavor and do not send up a scape in the spring, Instead, their stems stay soft and flexible and can be beautifully braided together for storing. Examples of softneck cultivars that grow well here are Inchelium Red and California Early.
Garlic bulbs produced for seed stock are available at local nurseries and online, and even bulbs from the supermarket can be planted, but they must be organic.
Planted garlic is not usually affected by pests or disease, and many gardeners use garlic plants to repel digging pests like rabbits and moles.
While garlic does grow well in many soil types including poor soils, it is prone to fungus and pathogens found in unhealthy soil. Adding compost to the planting area will ensure soil health and provide nutrients that the plant needs. Adding a high-nitrogen fertilizer to the plants at planting is helpful, but you do not need to fertilize throughout the growing cycle.
When ready to plant, separate the cloves from the head, leaving the papery layer on. Dig a small hole about 2 inches deep and press one clove into the hole, pointed side up. Continue doing this with a 4-inch to 6-inch space between holes. If planting multiple rows, leave 1 foot between rows. Cover the cloves with loose soil and give them some water.
A sprout will appear in about 10 to 14 days and will continue to grow throughout the winter. Water the plants regularly and spread mulch around the plants once they are 12 inches tall to keep moisture in and weeds at bay.
This long-season crop will be ready to harvest sometime in June or July. You will know it is ready when the leaves begin to turn yellow and brown. Stop watering at least 2 weeks before you harvest to ensure the bulb is dry upon harvesting.
Carefully dig up the new bulb, being careful not to pull on the stem. To store the garlic, it must first be cured. Once harvested, gently brush the soil off the bulb, but do not wash it with water.
Lay the bulbs flat, with stalks still on, in a dry, shady place with good airflow. A drying rack on a covered patio works great. Let them cure for about two weeks, at which time you can cut the stalks off about 1 inch from the crown of the bulb. You can clean the remaining soil off the bulbs now and they will store at room temperature for two to three months. Save a head or two for planting next year and use the rest as you wish.
The following recipe uses lots of garlic and fresh herbs to make a vibrant chimichurri sauce. It comes from Eden East, a restaurant that sits on 5 acres of sustainable farmland in East Austin, just 3 miles from downtown. Perilla, or shiso, is an herb that is grown on the farm and offers a unique twist on chimichurri. You can find perilla at the Eden East farm market or other local farmers markets or substitute perilla for another fresh herb like oregano or cilantro.
The farm hosts markets every Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the restaurant offers prix-fixe dinners and brunches based on seasonal harvests from the farm. The dining is al fresco style under a majestic elm. For reservations and more information visit edeneast.com.
Perilla Chimichurri Recipe
6-8 cloves garlic
3-4 red jalapenos
1 cup packed perilla leaf
1 cup packed mint leaf
1 cup packed parsley leaf
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup olive oil
Roast the peppers and garlic on a grill or stove-top until charred. Remove from heat and put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let sweat.
Once cooled, peel the garlic and peppers with gloves on. Seed and devein the peppers.
Add the herbs, peppers, garlic, salt, vinegar and honey in a blender and puree. Slowly add the oil until creamy and smooth. Serve with grilled meat or vegetables.