Growing your own garlic for that special Italian meal is simple and rewarding. Do not try to grow garlic from the grocery store. Many stores treat the garlic with a sprout inhibitor. This prevents the garlic from going through the natural growing process. The best source for the garlic bulb is a seed company or catalogue.
Before ordering the garlic a little background information will be helpful. Garlic belongs to the genus allium, which includes 400 different varieties of onions and leeks. The most common garlic eaten is allium sativum, which is divided into two sub-varieties. These sub-varieties include softneck and hardneck garlic. Softneck is what is commonly found in the grocery store and is covered in a white paper like skin. This sub-variety is further divided into silverskin and artichoke. Silverskin garlic has small cloves that are covered in a white paper like skin. Artichoke garlic has larger cloves that are covered with a coarse skin with purple blotches.
Hardneck garlic produces a flower stalk or scape that coils on the top and produces bubils on the end of this flower stalk. This type of garlic is divided into three different types and includes rocambole, porcelain, and purple stripe.
Garlic can be planted either in the early spring or late fall to early winter. If the garlic is planted in the fall or early winter, then a mulch of straw will have to be laid down to protect the cloves from the cold.
Regardless of when the garlic cloves are planted the garden area has to be prepared. Loosen the soil with a garden fork and mix in a combination of aged animal manure, compost, and leaf mold. Smooth the surface of the soil and make shallow furrows that are 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Break the bulb into cloves and separate the largest cloves from the smaller ones. The larger bulbs will be planted while the smaller ones will be used in the kitchen.
Place in the garlic in the furrow with the pointy side up and 4 inches apart. Once all the garlic is planted, spread soil over the garlic making sure to completely cover it. If planting more than one kind of garlic, make sure to label the rows.
Fertilize the garlic in mid-spring with a fish and kelp emulsion fertilizer. One month later fertilize again. From early spring to the latter part of June monitor the soil moisture. If the soil is dry one inch down then the garlic will need to be watered.
Stop watering toward the end of June and begin harvesting when five or six leaves have appeared. To remove the bulbs, simply run a garden fork under the bulbs and lift up. Pull the fresh garlic from the ground and shake the excess soil off. Once all garlic is harvested, move to a location that is protected from the sun and rain. If more than one variety of garlic is grown, make sure to keep the different types of garlic separate.
Garlic right out of the ground can be eaten but if it is going to be kept, it has to be cured. A stylish way of curing garlic is making a garlic braid.
To make a garlic braid, start out with twelve bulbs of garlic that still have the leaves attached. Clean the bulbs by removing any remaining soil and trim the roots. Lay out three of the garlic bulbs and tie together with twine. Begin to braid the leaves like hair while incorporating the twine with one of the bulbs. Add one bulb at a time to the braiding process until all the bulbs are used. Once the braiding is complete, make a loop with the twine and hang to dry in a location away from sunlight.
When garlic is needed, simply cut a bulb off the braid and use.
Garlic is a simple herb to start with if you are new to herbal gardening. There does exist one problem when it comes to garlic and that is once you taste hyper-local garlic you will never want the bulbs from the grocery store again.