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You Can Grow It: Garlic galore!

Garlic is one of the easiest things you grow in your garden. Jim Duthie shows you how to grow it and harvest it.

BOISE, Idaho — Most of us grow typical produce in our vegetable gardens -- tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and squash, but have you ever grown garlic?

It is easy to grow. And if you aren’t already growing it, you’ll probably want to.

I’ve been growing gardens for many years, but this is only the second time I’ve grown garlic, and I have to say that it’s one of the easiest things to grow in your garden. You just plant it in the fall, and then pretty much forget it until you harvest it in the summer. Let me tell you a few things about garlic that you might not already know and show you how easy it is to grow it.

There are two types of garlic: the hard-neck variety has a stiff stem and typically has larger bulbs. It’s the kind most chefs and professional cooks use because of its intense flavor, but it has a shorter shelf life.

The soft-neck variety of garlic has a softer, more pliable stem. It’s what you usually find in the grocery store, and it lasts longer in storage.

It’s illegal to plant grocery store garlic here in Idaho, because of the risk of a fungal disease called white rot, that could be devastating to Idaho’s garlic and onion industry. So make sure you buy only certified garlic seed stock locally or online.

I planted this soft-neck garlic last fall, using cloves from the garlic that I grew the previous year, and then I just left it for the winter. In the spring, as the green leaves shot up, I just weeded and watered it.

Now the leaves are starting to turn yellow now and drying out a bit, so we’re getting close to harvest time.

Right around the 4th of July, when the leaves turned brown, and were drying out and wilting, I lifted one of the garlics to make sure it was ready. It was good-sized with lots of cloves, and it was covered with a papery skin. So I knew the rest were ready to dig up, as well.

Never pull up the garlic by the stem. It could detach from the bulb. Instead, loosen the soil, being careful not to damage any of the bulbs. Then gently lift them from the soil.

Once you’ve dug them all up, it’s time to let them cure. Curing allows the energy from the leaves go into the bulbs as they dry. Properly cured garlic can last several months in storage.

Gently clean off some of the dirt, keeping the bulbs dry, and be careful not to bruise or damage the bulbs.

Some gardeners like to braid the leaves together into a garlic string to hang while it cures. But if you don’t have very much, you can spread them out where there’s good air circulation and they’re protected from the sun and moisture.

I’m just going to tie my garlic together in small clusters to hang up to dry.

Take 4 to 8 of the garlic plants and carefully tie the stems together with some twine, leaving a little extra to hang it up with.

Put them in a shaded, dry, well-ventilated shed or garage for about 2 to 4 weeks. The outer covering of the bulbs will dry out, making a protective cover for the soft cloves inside. Once the papery skins are dry, you can trim off the roots and the stalks.

After they’ve dried, you can bring them inside. If you have some, mesh bags will allow good air circulation.

When October arrived, it was time to plant more garlic. I had saved two of the biggest and best bulbs from my summer harvest, and I carefully separated the cloves. Then I planted each clove in a hole about three inches deep, root side down, about six inches apart, and carefully covered them back over with loose soil, followed by a little layer of mulch and dead leaves.

Once I harvest this year’s crop of garlic, I’ll save a couple of the best bulbs to plant again in the fall, so I can look forward to another great crop of garlic next summer. If you haven’t grown garlic before, give it a try. I think you’ll find that it will become a permanent addition to your garden from now on.

You can find certified disease-free garlic seed stock at many local nurseries and garden stores, as well as from certified seed companies in catalogs and online.

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