NGA Articles: A Passion For Garlic

A Passion For Garlic (cont)

By: Vicky Congdon

The Challenges of the South

"Garlic likes it a little warmer and a little drier than onions do,” says William Randle, head of the Allium breeding program at the University of Georgia. "Down here we've got the heat but we don't have the dry," he notes. "Diseases are the biggest problem I see." Randle stresses planting only healthy cloves and maintaining a three-year rotation with the whole Allium family. "Find a variety that matures by mid-May, before those foliar diseases really kick in," he advises.

Hardneck garlic generally won't develop large, flavorful bulbs in the South — it prefers a cooler climate and longer days — but Jeff McCormack of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia has had good luck with Purple rocambole. "It has performed consistently and sizes up well," he says. He recommends Yugoslavian rocambole, too. He notes, however, that the artichoke types are more forgiving of the heat and get to be twice the size. For gardeners in hot, dry areas, he recommends Mild French silverskin.

If Extreme Cold is a Problem . . .

The winter of 1978 caused garlic grower Richard Wrench in Kalispell, Montana, to rethink his approach to planting garlic. Wrench maintains a collection of 360 strains at The Montana Garlic Farm on the edge of Glacier National Park. That winter, the temperatures of –30°F froze his fall-planted garlic and when things thawed in the spring, he had a field of liquified bulbs. "I told myself there has to be a better way," Wrench says.

And he's found it: spring-planting. By saving the best-looking, longest-storing spring-planted bulbs for replanting the following spring, Wrench has developed strains that well. One variety, Montana Roja, yields a market-quality rocambole with 1/4-pound heads after curing.

"If you can grow good-sized onions from sets or seed," Wrench maintains, "you can spring-plant garlic." He plants as soon as the soil can be worked, no later than mid-April, and harvests in early September. But, he emphasizes, the date of planting isn't as important as the heat and hours of daylight of your growing season.

Harvest and Storage

In most areas of the country, garlic is ready in midsummer. "I harvest garlic when four to six green leaves are left on the plant," says Engeland. Each green leaf equals a solid bulb wrapper; the brown or dead leaves at the base of the plant are bulb wrappers that are decaying. Overmature bulbs can split apart, allowing moisture to get in. Hardneck garlics are generally ready before softnecks, and they require more attention at harvest time, as they're more susceptible to decay if left in the soil too long. Pull plants by hand (loosening the soil around them first). Handle the bulbs gently so you don't bruise them.

Cure the bulbs for two to three weeks, spread out on screens or hung, in a warm, dry place with good air circulation. Where humidity is high, curing can take a month or even two and may require a fan. When you cut the dried top one inch above the bulb and no moisture is evident, the garlic is ready to be stored. Temperatures of 32° to 40° F and 60 percent to 70 percent humidity is ideal, but garlic will also store well at room temperature. Temperatures of 42&deg to 52&deg F will cause sprouting, however.

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