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Garlic is one of those foods that, as gardeners, we don’t necessarily think about a lot, but as cooks, we use constantly. The amazing thing is that garlic is relatively easy to grow, and in fact, it can be done as a perennial, providing harvests every year without having to cultivate it again and again.
For permaculturalists and sustainable gardeners, perennial crops hold a special place of honor. They tend to be easier to maintain, more prolific in production, and less consumptive with resources. Growing garlic as a perennial can offer all these benefits and more. Garlic is also a great companion plant with many crops because it repels pests.
As cooks with healthy mindsets, we find few foods that outdo garlic in terms of medicinal qualities. It is traditionally used to cure colds and the flu, and it is often prescribed as a means of reducing high blood pressure. It also has antioxidants that help the brain, and it’s effective for detoxing our bodies. Plus, vitamins and minerals abound.
So, then, how do we grow it?
What Conditions Does Garlic Like?
Garlic is from the allium family, which includes onions, leeks, and all those other similarly smelly items that just taste so nice. In general, this means plenty of sun (though ramps aren’t necessarily this way) and loose, well-draining soil. As an underground bulb, garlic is not too fond of being in boggy soils and will rot. Raised beds are a great growing space for garlic.
How Is Garlic Planted?
Garlic is planted by simply taking one clove and shoving it about an inch deep into the soil, root-side down. They need about four to six inches between each other. Most people like to plant them in the autumn, typically in early October, leaving enough time for them to start growing before the weather gets cold. During the winter, growers should put about four inches of leaf mulch over the garlic bed. This lets the plant establish roots over the winter and pop up as early as possible in the spring.
When Does Garlic Grow?
Garlic, like other alliums, is happy to begin growing when the weather is still relatively frosty. It begins to sprout in early spring. By late spring or early summer, some varieties will send up flower stalks — scapes — with small bulbils. These should be cut off (and eaten, as they are delicious) so that all of the plant’s energy is concentrated on the bulb. During this time, the leaves, flowers, and young bulbs — like pearl onions — are all edible.
When Is Garlic Harvested?
The garlic bulbs are usually ready to harvest in late July or early August, about ten months after being planted. The big signal is that the leaves begin to brown. The best time to harvest them is when only about a third to half of the leaf has died. This helps to prevent the outer bulbs, under the ground, from decaying as well. At this time, the gardener can likely grab the plant and pull it right out of the ground.
How Does Garlic Grow as a Perennial?
It’s counterintuitive to think of garlic as something that can be grown as a perennial, but it mostly only requires a bit of restraint and attentiveness. Essentially, it’s in how we harvest it, or more so, how we don’t harvest it. When establishing a perennial garlic bed, growers should only take the large plants each year, leaving the smaller ones to die back so they can sprout again next spring. If some garlic is always left in the ground, more will come back next year: Perennial production.
Endless Production with No More Cultivation
Once the bed is established this way, it won’t need to be planted again. It’s just a matter of mulching it at the right time and harvesting when and where appropriate. The bed doesn’t even need to be fertilized (with compost, manure or grass clippings) every year. That’s smart gardening versus all that tilling and plowing all the time, and that’s how garlic is grown as a perennial crop.
Image Source: Pixabay