Calaveras Enterprise

It’s garlic-planting time

A world without garlic is hard to imagine. It enhances so many of our favorite cuisines with an aroma that conjures so many wonderful food memories.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the Amaryllis family, which also includes leeks, onions and shallots. There are two main types of garlic: softneck has numerous smaller cloves, and hardneck produces a green stalk or “scape” in the spring but has fewer, larger cloves. Elephant garlic, not technically true garlic that’s more closely related to leeks, has a bulb with very large, mild-flavored cloves.

Garlic is easy to grow, even in small gardens, especially if compact varieties are planted. Generally, October through December is the perfect time to plant garlic, but it depends on weather conditions. It is best to plant at least two weeks before the first frost to give your garlic a chance to get established before winter sets in.

Almost 90 percent of the garlic grown in the U.S. is grown in California. California early and California late are the two major commercial varieties. California early has white skins and is planted in November for harvest in June. California late has light purple skins and is planted in December for harvest in July and August. Area nurseries may offer varieties like Spanish rojo, late pink or California white, and online sources like Peaceful Valley Organic Farms ( have large selections to choose from.

Select garlic heads that are firm and tight-skinned and plant them in full sun. Garlic prefers well-amended, slightly moist, sandy and loamy soil that has good drainage. To plant garlic, take apart a bulb and remove the papery outside wrapping, but keep the covering on the individual cloves. Plant each clove separately, pointed end up, spaced about 6-inches apart in rows that are 10 to 12 inches apart. You can plant bulbs from the grocery store, but to ensure you’re planting a flavorful variety that has been stored correctly, you’re better off buying bulbs specifically for planting.

Mulch well and keep your growing area weed-free to prevent root competition.

Harvest your fresh garlic when the plant tops begin to die, using a pitch fork to avoid cracking the bulbs. Let the bulbs dry in the sun for three weeks, until the skins become papery. If you are only growing a few plants, you can store the bulbs by braiding the tops and hanging the rope of garlic in a cool, dry place or by placing bulbs in a well-ventilated container like a mesh bag. Garlic can be stored up to three to five months under cool (60 degrees), dry, dark conditions.

As with all low-acid vegetables, garlic will support the growth and subsequent toxin production of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, if it is not handled properly. When canning with it at home, infusing it in oils or storing it as fresh herbs, be sure to follow safe food preserving practices.

For more information, search “ANR Publication 8568” from October of 2016, “Garlic: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve and Enjoy.”

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