You either you like it or you don’t; there doesn’t seem to be much ground in between for the “stinking rose.” Garlic, that is. So, if you don’t, you can just skip ahead to the public service announcement at the end. If you do, then here’s the lowdown on planting this aromatic and healthful crop.
Garlic, planted now, gets a good set of roots started before the cooler weather slows down growth. As soon as the days lengthen and soil begins to warm again, it will be ready to put on its best growth. Your crop should be out of the ground in time to make way for spring crops (even more garlic, if you want). Plant individual cloves of garlic about six inches apart in rows about 10 inches apart. Or stagger a double row, with the same spacing and leave at least 15 inches between rows. Bury the cloves only an inch below the surface of well-drained soil that has had lots of good compost added. Just lay their root end down and push them in up to the first knuckle of your finger.
For best results, buy disease-free “seed” stock from a nursery or one of the many fine mail order sources. You will discover there are many more varieties available to you than you will ever find in the store. Their flavors range from the mildest to the most piquant, so you may want to try several different ones.
You will immediately realize that garlic growers have a vocabulary of their own, so here is a glossary of terms: Porcelain garlic varieties are known for their very smooth, tight white outer covering. They have four to six large cloves and are mild in flavor. Rocambole garlic is the most widely known of the hardneck (more on that below) varieties. They make six to 11 large cloves that peel easily. Purple Stripe varieties make more, eight to 12, cloves and peel relatively easy as well. Artichoke types have several layers (like an artichoke) and as many as 20 total cloves. Most have a very mild flavor. Silverskins are the ones you typically see in the grocery store, as they are grown for their long storage life and because they can be braided easily. There are some other esoteric types, but Creole is one worthy of mention because, while the wrappers are off-white, the cloves themselves are red or purple. It is also well suited for southern latitudes. Other terms to look for are hardneck and softneck. Hardneck types usually produce a flower stalk, while softnecks do not. When growing hardnecks, harvest the flower stalks (many curve around in a beautiful coil) when they reach above the leaves and add their mild flavor to a stir-fry or salad. The softneck varieties are the best to braid because they do not have the stiff flower stalk with which to contend.
Porcelain, Rocambole, and Purple Stripe types are all cultivated types of Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon and you may find them referred to as “ophios.” Artichokes, Silverskins, and their like are varieties of A. sativum var. sativum. The so-called elephant garlic is actually a leek, A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum. So there you have the family tree. Within these groups you will find scores of named selections, each with its own particular characteristics.
One final word: To harvest garlic, gently pull or dig the bulbs out of the ground when the leaves begin to turn brown. Brush off any soil clinging to them (do not wash with water!) and either tie them in bundles of eight or 10 and hang in a dry place to cure or spread them in single layers on screens or racks. Air circulation is important to avoid mold. After they are dry (three weeks to two months), you can cut off the roots, trim the stems shorter (the longer the better for lengthy storage), and use a brush to remove any remaining soil bits. Be careful to keep the papery outer layers intact. Keep cool (less than 50 degrees is best) for six to eight months.
Garden Event: On Sunday, October 21, you are invited to participate in the Hidden Gardens of the Mission Tour from 2-4 p.m. This rarely seen area of the Santa Barbara Mission grounds was once the site of the original “Indian village.” It is now a living museum of heritage plants that were grown at missions and ranchos in the era from 1769-1834. Docents will share some of the interesting stories about how these plants were rescued from near oblivion and now flourish again. For more information, call 687-6582 or 403-1378.