Halloween means it’s garlic planting time. (Mary Lowther photo)

Halloween means it’s garlic planting time. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Happy garlic season

Soft neck garlics produce more per acre and store better

By Mary Lowther

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet you had best get started. We’re going to get into the reasons why you should grow some, but the when is right now.

Throughout history the humble clove of garlic has been praised for its medicinal qualities. The ancient Egyptians prescribed it to treat parasites and circulatory problems, and fed it to the pyramid builders to increase their strength and stamina. Preserved garlic was included among the treasures of Tutankhamen. The Assyrians, better known for being very unpleasant visitors, used it as an antibiotic to pack into tooth cavities.

A thousand years later the ancient Greeks used garlic as a performance enhancer. Early Olympians consumed it before competing. Hippocrates prescribed it raw for pulmonary problems, skin conditions and abdominal distress, and cooked to treat asthma. In the interests of space we will cover the details of the ensuing millennia with a bold assertion that allium sativum, as the Romans called it, is good stuff.

That’s why I plant garlic every year and cook with it frequently. Modern Israeli researchers have determined that heating garlic immediately after being crushed or sliced destroys the enzyme that converts a garlic protein into allicin, the potent antioxidant that provides the most benefit. They suggest chopping or mincing garlic 10 minutes before cooking to allow the reaction to occur.

Although all garlic descends from hard neck garlic found in the Mesopotamian fertile crescent, author Ron Engeland postulates that soft neck garlic was developed from them 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, because only soft neck garlic was referenced in ancient literature.

Soft neck garlics produce more per acre and store better, but their heat reduces the garlic flavour that comes to the fore in hard necked varieties. Hard neck garlic produce stems called “scapes” that can be chopped up and used the same way as the cloves, but they don’t store well. I planted soft neck and hard neck varieties last year and will re-plant cloves from some of these bulbs this week. I stored them in the relative coolness of the basement and they still look pretty good, although the ideal temperature ranges between 13 and 18 C. Cloves planted in late October will grow into nice fat bulbs to harvest next July.

If there’s any compost left, I add a thin layer to the bed along with complete organic fertilizer at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet and dig this into the top few inches. Then I break apart the garlic bulbs, being careful not to bruise them and plant them flat side down (this is the root end) and pointed side up. If they’re not oriented this way, the plant wastes time and energy sending the shoot from underneath to go around the bulb. I plant my garlic farther apart than books recommend so their roots can expand farther and reach more water in case of drought. I push a one inch wide stick, two inches deep every eight to 12 inches in rows two feet apart and then drop one clove into each hole. I fill in the soil above each hole and cover the bed with a two-inch layer of leaves.

Full disclosure requires I admit that I don’t grow garlic merely for the physical benefits. Consumed raw it can keep you healthy and boost your immune system, but your friends and family might decide that social distancing should be permanent. Added to soups and sauces, however, garlic is indispensable haute cuisine.

David suggests wrapping whole cloves in Camembert, rolling it up in filo pastry and baking it in the oven. I suggest a mouthwash chaser, and wonder if recipes like this are why the superstitious believe garlic discourages vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night. Before they bite our necks they have to survive our breath!

Perhaps that is why we are supposed to plant before Halloween, the traditional Day of the Dead. Happy Garlic Season.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Columngardening