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Culinary staple is easy to raise and store 

By T.L. Dew

Photography by iStockPhoto

In the fall, when the days grow shorter and cooler and the first frost approaches, get back in the garden because it’s time to plant garlic. Gary Cirullo has been growing garlic commercially for 22 years in Connecticut where the savory plant is so popular that it seems like “everybody wants to be a garlic guru,” he says. “I say ‘Good, go for it’,” says Cirullo, owner of The Garlic Farm, in West Granby, Conn. For hobby farmers who want to grow garlic for their family and friends, 25 to 50 cloves should be plenty, Cirullo says.

With dozens of varieties to consider, most U.S. gardeners will want to look for hard-neck varieties, Cirullo says, because soft-neck varieties grow well only in arid climates. Cirullo recommends going online and ordering the garlic best suited to grow in your region. Garlic from the grocery store won’t grow well, because nearly all of that is soft-neck. Once you have your garlic seed, Cirullo recommends planting in a raised bed. “In a raised bed, the water will drain out. You don’t want them sitting in water because (their roots) will rot,” he says.

Cirullo initially had 4-inch raised beds but increased the bed height to about 8 inches and he says the crop looks much better. Raised beds do require close monitoring because soil can dry out quickly. Before planting, have the soil tested by a local agriculture extension agent. Garlic grows best in soil with a pH of 7, he says. Once the soil is right, plant the garlic cloves pointy side up 2-3 inches deep and about 7 inches apart. Rows should be 12-13 inches apart. As the weather turns cold, mulch with 2 inches of chopped leaves. This not only keeps light from getting through to the plants, but it helps suppress weeds. The garlic shoot will emerge from the mulch in spring.

When the plants are 6 to 8 inches high, apply a 7-2-4 fertilizer, Cirullo recommends. “Put it down liberally. You want a big plant,” he says. “You get a big healthy plant and it’s going to make a better bulb.” The plant will continue growing and in early summer a flower stalk called a scape will appear. Cirullo cuts off the scapes by hand to encourage the plant to focus its energy on developing the bulb rather than the flower. “People like big garlic,” he says.

As the plant grows, the leaves begin to turn brown from the bottom up. As the leaves continue dying, harvest time is near, and when there are four to five green leaves left on the plant — usually from late June to late July — it’s time to pull out the garlic. Garlic can be eaten immediately or dried and stored for later use. ★ 

T.L. Dew is a Tennessee writer and gardener.