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October’s Herb: Garlic

At the October 13 “Herbies” meeting, the topic de jour was Garlic.  A multipurpose herb, garlic is a member of the Alliaceae family (herbaceous flowering perennials) and a close relative of onions, leeks, shallots and chives.  The most commonly used part of this herb used for food is the bulb, which, depending on the variety, will yield between 1 and 12 individual cloves.  Garlic varieties range in flavor from mild (i.e., Elephant garlic) to pungent (Garlic “Musik” or “Nootka”).

Garlic has many healing properties – it has long been used for preventing colds, flu and even the bubonic plague.  Some evidence suggests garlic helps in managing high cholesterol levels and preventing arteriosclerosis.  The stronger the garlic’s taste, the more sulfur it contains and hence the higher its medicinal benefit.

The Herbies learned that garlic can be planted in spring or fall.  October is the ideal time to plant garlic for a spring 2010 harvest.  If you are considering planting garlic this fall, local garlic grower Bev Fazio suggested that this coming weekend is optimal because, according to garlic growing lore, garlic does best when planted while the Moon is waning (October 17 is the new moon phase when the moon is completely hidden from view).  If all goes well, an October garlic crop is ready for harvesting around Father’s Day.

Garlic cloves should be planted in fertile, well-drained soil amended with compost or well-rotted manure; raised beds are good.  First, separate the individual cloves from the bulb.  The larger the clove, the bigger the bulb the plant will produce at harvest.  Cloves should be pushed into the soil, root end down-pointed end up, 4-6” apart.  When planting, the hole for each clove should be about the depth of one’s index finger.

A few weeks before harvesting stop watering the garlic. Different growers have different rules of thumb regarding the best time to harvest:

  • when the lower leaves are half to three-quarters brown
  • when the plants are 40% brown, 60% green.

In Tennessee, garlic planted in fall will generally be ready in late spring.  The bulbs should be carefully dug up with a pitchfork and cured by laying out to dry in a shady area with good circulation for 2-3 weeks.

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