Tips provided by locals help others learn to grow garlic
Editor’s Note: The following information was compiled from resources collected at a meeting with the Full Circle Future Harvest Group on October 9th, 2017 at the Muncy Public Library plus notes from John Bendick’s guide to growing garlic. An exchange of garlic bulbs took place within the group showing a variety of the organic harvest.
MUNCY – Mid-October is the perfect time of year before the ground freezes to plant the bulbs for a successful garlic crop in July. Like any harvested crop, starting with healthy soil and lots of organic matter is important. Garlic is a bulb that will flourish in well-drained soil according to the Penn State Extension and Master Gardeners. Garlic needs about 14 to 16 weeks of cold weather in order to bloom in the spring. If planted too soon, the cloves could rot if left in soggy soil. Garlic is frost-tolerant.
Humus and manure is recommended for soil enrichment. John Bendick of Benton likes to use oak leaves because they don’t blow away and keep the plants covered during winter. “The leaves protect the cloves from frost heaving and provide weed control the following spring.” He advises to plant the largest cloves. “Supermarket garlic is not good to use,” he said and suggests starting with bulbs from a local grower or nursery.
Plant each clove with tip up, two inches deep, six inches apart. If planting in rows, space 12 inches between them. “They need 40 degrees for 40 days to induce bulb formation,” Bendick added.
Around late May or early June the garlic bulbs will produce flower stems or scapes. When body heads begin to form, remove them in order to produce larger bulbs. “The garlic will be ready for harvest the second week in July. But I wait until at least one third of the leaves turn yellow or brown,” Bendick said. “Harvest time is very important. There are only about 10 to 14 days for optimum garlic harvest.”
The Growers Almanac reports that garlic has very few problems with pests or diseases in the garden. In fact, it is a natural pest repellent, and raw garlic can relieve an insect sting or bite. Garlic does require adequate levels of nitrogen and water every 3 to 5 days during bulbing (mid-May through June).
At harvest time in mid-July, remove the dirt and store the bulbs by placing them in a dry, cool place such as a basement or garage. Once dried, remove the outer loose portions of the sheath and trim the root tops one inch from the bulb.
There are several types of garlic to plant. Ruth Steck of Pennsdale said there are softnecks for milder areas and hardnecks for the colder climates. “They like the sun too.” When harvesting, they need to be handled delicately to avoid bruising. “Loosen the soil before pulling.”
Mother Earth News suggests placing the whole plants in a warm well ventilated area away from rain, preferably direct sun for 1-2 weeks before trimming them. Do not remove the outer skin as it protects the cloves from rotting and sprouting. They can be stored for up to 8 months, or even longer in 50-60 degree temperatures.
The health benefits of garlic are numerous. According to Betsy Waddell of Muncy and a licensed pharmacist, garlic provides support to cells and organs that keep the body healthy. “It is an antioxidant and enhances the immune system.”
LuAnn Potter of Pennsdale provided information on the compounds of garlic for health and longevity. From the ancient Chinese to colonial America, it has been used widely. “It protects the body.”
Studies show consuming one clove a day can reduce high blood pressure, fight fungal infections and candida, lower serum cholesterol, and reduce arthritic joint inflammation.
Its intense flavor is ideal for cooking. Garlic is a home remedy with many uses. It can be added to just about any recipe, but all research claims to save the largest, best formed bulb for the next growing season.