Grow Your Own Garlic – It is fun & flavorful!

Rebecca Jepsen
Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen writes the "Ask a Master Gardener" advice column monthly originally published in the San Jose Mercury News.

Other than with pies, cakes and pancakes, I use garlic in almost all of my meals. I love it in a breakfast frittata, as an aioli on my lunchtime sandwich and I can’t image cooking sautéed veggies, stirfrys or pastas for dinner without it.

Garlic, a member of the Allium — onion — family, is easy to grow and takes up very little space in the garden.

There are more than 600 varieties of garlic grown, and although China produces most of the world’s garlic, California produces more than any state in the nation.

Garlic is believed to prevent cardiovascular problems, reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and has been used to treat asthma, diabetes, atherosclerosis and a host of other ailments.

Santa Clara Master Gardener Sue Zaslaw, an expert on the stinking rose, says homegrown garlic is more nutritious and much more flavorful than supermarket garlic. By growing your own, you can choose the varieties based on size, shape and, of course, taste.

Sue inspired me so much that I planted seven varieties last fall. I was completely surprised by how different each tasted and the assortment of cloves sizes.

Most garlic is either hardneck, with a hard, woody center stalk, or softneck, which lacks a central stalk. Hardnecks tend to have fewer cloves — 4 to 12 — and have more flavor. They grow well in cooler climates, but don’t store as long as softnecks. They also produce flowering tops, called scapes, that are delicious when cooked.

Softnecks can produce up to 30 cloves and have a milder taste. The stalks can be braided for hanging storage. If you have both, use your hardnecks first as they will not last as long as the softnecks.

The best time for planting garlic is now through the end of November. Break the bulbs into individual cloves just before planting. Remove the outer papery wrapping, but be sure to leave the covering on the individual cloves.

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