Garlic (Allium sativum) is so easy to grow and adds such flavor to food that everyone should grow it! Remembering when to plant it is easy too: just think of trick-or-treaters dressing as Dracula and you'll remember that October is the perfect time.
Soft neck garlic varieties are the best choice for mild winter climates. They have a traditional garlic flavor and are suitable for long term storage. At this time of year, you can find planting garlic at most garden centers, but heads from the grocery store will work too as long as the garlic is organic; garlic that is not labeled organic may have been sprayed with a chemical that inhibits sprouting. Choose plump, fleshy heads with the papery covering intact.
Choose a location that receives full sun (4-6 hours). A month before planting, prepare the soil by adding compost and fertilizer with an 8-2-4 (or similar) ratio. If you use a soil mix like Landscape Mix, the small wood chips benefits the microbes that encourage garlic to develop large heads with fat cloves.
When ready to plant, divide each bulb into cloves. Remove the papery covering and place the cloves into holes 2” deep with the bottom basil plate down and the pointy end up. Plant 4-6” apart. Keep the soil moist but not soaking. Planting in October allows the cloves to develop roots before the first freeze, but you won’t see shoots for several weeks. Garlic grows slowly through the winter, but as soon as the ground warms in the spring growth will accelerate.
In late May, the plant will send up a bloom scape. Cut this off immediately; you want the energy to go into developing heads, not producing flowers. But don’t toss the bloom scape; it’s edible! Slice it and toss it into salads or any dishes where you want a mild garlic flavor.
Three or four weeks later, the leaves will turn yellow/brown, and when half the length of the leaves have turned yellow/brown it’s time to dig.
Carefully loosen the soil around the heads and pull them up. Hang them to dry in a well ventilated and shady spot for 2-4 weeks. When completely dry, cut the tops and roots off and store the heads in paper or net bags in a cool, ventilated area. If you wish to braid the garlic into an attractive kitchen decoration, trim the roots with scissors and braid the leaves of six freshly dug heads, tie with string and store in a cool, ventilated area for several weeks before hanging.
Here is my favorite garlic appetizer recipe:
5 whole heads of Garlic 3 Tablespoons Butter, cut into pieces
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil ¼ cup White Wine
2 cups Chicken Broth 2 teaspoons chopped fresh Rosemary
8 ounces Blue Cheese Crusty Bread for dipping
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut ½” off the top of each garlic head and remove most of the papery skin. Place the garlic (cut side up) in a baking dish and sprinkle the cut garlic tops around the baking dish. Top with butter and pour the olive oil over the garlic heads. Add chicken broth and wine to the dish. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary over the top.
Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Then uncover and baste with the pan juices. Continue baking uncovered about 1 hour, basting and adding more broth if necessary to maintain a sauce.
Add cheese to the dish and continue baking until the cheese is melted (about 10 minutes). Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh chopped parsley (if desired).
Guests serve themselves right out of the baking dish. They dip bread in the cooking juices, then spread the garlic and melted cheese over the top.