Garlic (Allium sativum) is such a sturdy plant, and counts with so many varieties, that it is suitable to grow in most gardening zones, from 3 to 9; this means that, other than the poles and the jungle, it should be possible to enjoy homegrown garlic anywhere. In my 6B gardening zone, I have been monitoring the cloves that I sowed in the fall, just making sure they had sufficient water throughout their growing season:
Garlic crops are so noble, they even tell the gardener when to harvest. Once at least three leaves have turned yellow, it is time to dig the fragrant gems. Dirt must be carefully loosen up around the bulbs, without scratching, and under the roots since they are surprisingly deep:
I like to check one or two plants first, to see how the bulbs have developed (see photo at the top of the post.) My sample looks well developed, with three nicely dried leaves (each corresponding to a papery layer on the bulb) and a fourth leaf yellowing. The temptation to just cook them or make into a delicious Middle Eastern garlic sauce is great, but impatient gardeners (like me) must take a deep breath and wait to have the whole crop out of the soil. This is because about a quarter of the bulbs will be selected and saved to be sown in the fall, for next year’s crop. It is very tempting to eat the biggest and plumpest, and sow the smallish ones, since some gardeners say it makes no difference. I tried myself one year, saving mostly big bulbs and a couple of the small ones to compare; for me, it was the bigger – the better, so now I know to save the biggest for planting. I have received a couple of requests asking for instructions on how to grow garlic, and summer is the right time to start. As discussed, the first step is to secure a good supply of bulbs; that is why, for the returning garlic grower, harvest of the current crop and planning for the next occur at the same time.
For first-time growers: some people buy supermarket garlic with reported success, but others recommend against it, unless it is organic (bulbs at supermarkets have often been treated with sprouting inhibitors, for longer shelf life) and local (for a better chance of thriving). I have found that organic, local garlic, is almost as expensive as ordering from a seed company, which has the advantage of having a large selection from the catalogues. It is an investment (mine were about $15CAD for one pound, plus shipping and handling), but you only have to buy the bulbs once. If you order in the spring or summer, the seed companies will make note of your gardening zone, and send the bulbs around the corresponding optimum sowing time, in the fall; for 6B is around mid-September, but for example in 8B, it is late October (with possibility of sowing as late as early December.) So for now, for the Northern hemisphere, it is time to save/order bulbs; I will follow up in September with sowing and care information. For details on how to select the best varieties for specific gardening zones, there is plenty of information on-line. In a nut shell, there are two groups of garlic: hardneck garlic is better suited for cold climates, and softneck for milder zones. In terms of characteristics, hardneck have complex flavours and produce scapes (edible flower buds), whereas softneck have more cloves per bulb and a longer shelf life, so these properties might influence the choice as well.
The medicinal and nutritional value of garlic is well known and documented, and its versatility in many cuisines makes it a staple in any kitchen. Although not native to Mexico, once available after the Spanish conquest, it became an important ingredient in many of what are now considered vintage recipes, for example, see my post on fish filets in garlic sauce (al mojo de ajo), which I have updated with a printable recipe.
It is a delicious way to enjoy garlic; the only pertinent extra advice, is to share this and any other garlic dishes with friends and family, so the strong scent will not be as noticeable. On the bright side, it should for sure keep vampires away.