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Garlic - The taste was in the air

Posted: September 8, 2012

If you were one of the tens of thousands who visited the Italian Festival in downtown Scranton last weekend, you could smell and vicariously taste the one essential condiment of Italian cooking: garlic...

It is used to flavor sauces, dips, spreads, pickles, breads, and known to ward off a vampire or two. It is more versatile in the kitchen than its close cousin the onion.

Garlic is one of the few crops which do best with a fall planting, and require about eight months to mature. From the first frost to early November is the ideal time to plant.

Choose a well-drained location with rich organic, loamy type soil. Heavy clay or stony soils will result in misshapen bulbs.  It is recommended that you take a soil test to determine the pH and whether amendments are needed or not. These test kits are available for purchase at our office. Do not use a site which was used to grow onion family crops. Garlic is a poor competitor for weeds so mulch with two to four inches of straw or plant a cover crop, such as buckwheat or rye, to keep weeds down.

When selecting cloves to plant, do not use bulbs from the supermarket. Some have been treated to prevent after harvest sprouting, and are often not native and poorly suited for our climate. Purchase fresh cloves from your local garden center or mail order supply company. There are three different varieties from which to choose:

•    Softneck: This kind stays soft during harvest, and is used in braiding. It tends to have larger cloves on the outside and smaller cloves inside. It has the strongest flavor and store well. Softneck are less winter hardy than stiffneck.

•    Stiffneck: These have a central stem that curls as it grows. Sitffneck garlic is milder in flavor, easy to peel, and grows in a single ring around the stem. In contrast to the softneck, they are cold hardy but do not store as well.

•    Elephant: So called because they have larger bulbs with fewer but bigger cloves. It has mild flavor and is not as cold hardy as the other kinds.

For best results, consider planting a mix of the kinds. Plant with the tips up, two inches deep, four to six inches apart in rows fifteen to twenty-four inches apart. For elephant garlic, a depth of three inches and spaced eight to twelve inches is recommended. The hardest part of growing garlic is the wait- usually mid-July it is ready. Seems so far off, but just imagine the taste of fresh garlic on your table!

The Penn State Master Gardeners in Lackawanna County have the free “Growing Garlic” publication for more information.  For a copy, please contact us at 570-963-6842 or email LackawannaMG@psu.edu.

Steve Ward
Master Gardener Coordinator
Penn State Extension - Lackawanna County