softneck garlic growing in raised bed vegetable garden (13014 bytes)

Garlic for Colorado Gardens

By Betty Jo Cahill, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

The culturally diverse diet of Americans today has made garlic an increasingly popular crop in the home garden.

History

Garlic hails from Central Asia and was cultivated in Mediterranean countries over 5000 years ago. Greeks and Romans delighted in its flavor and powers of strength. It was reported that gladiators consumed it before battle, while Egyptian slaves ate it to give them strength to build pyramids.

Biologist Louis Pasteur tested garlic on a petri dish full of garlic. He was surprised to learn that the garlic killed troublesome microorganisms. In the 1950’s, Dr. Albert Schweitzer used garlic to treat typhus, dysentery and cholera while working as a missionary in Africa. Garlic was also used in World War I and II as a disinfectant (before the availability of antibiotics) on wounds. The Soviet army used it so much that it became known as "Russian Penicillin."

Nutritional Benefits

Nutritionally, garlic is a great source of Vitamins A and C, potassium, phosphorous, selenium, and a number of amino acids. Research continues on garlic’s ability to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Types of Garlic

Garlic is one of 700 species of Allium or onion. There are three kinds of garlic:

  • softneck(Allium sativum var sativum)
  • hardneck (Allium sativum var ophioscorodon)
  • elephant (Allium ampeloprasum).

    Softneck Garlic

The two common types of softnecked garlic are artichoke and silverskin. Both strains are commonly sold in grocery stores. Artichokes are named for their similarity to artichokes: several overlapping layers (3 to 5) containing up to 20 cloves. Their color is white to off white and their thick wrappers explain why they are so hard to peel. The shelf life of the artichoke garlic is long, generally up to eight months. Silverskins are high yielding, grow well in a variety of climates and are the most popular among garlic braiders. Recommended strains for Colorado include Inchelium, Polish White, Chet’s Italian Red and Kettle River Giant.

    Hardneck Garlic

The most common hardneck garlic is rocambole. They produce large cloves, are easy to peel and have more flavor than softnecks. Because of their loose skins, they are do not have a long shelf life, usually 4 to 5 months. Unlike common or softneck garlic, hardnecks throw up a flowering stem (scapes) that eventually turns woody. Recommended strains include Chesnok Red, German White, Polish Hardneck and Persian Star.

    Elephant Garlicelephant garlic is the biggest garlic (3610 bytes)

Elephant garlic is the largest garlic and is closely related to the leek family. It is the mildest in flavor; many claiming it tastes more like an onion than garlic. Elephant garlic is twice the size of other strains, its cloves growing as large as a full bulb on standard garlic. It has a long shelf life (when stored properly) and is very easy to peel. Enjoy it raw or sautéed with butter, olive oil and salt and pepper for a wonderful treat.

Planting

Although garlic is considered a perennial it is usually grown as an annual. It grows 1 to 3 feet in height. The recommended planting time for colder regions is fall, 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost date. This allows the root to develop over the winter. The soil should be well amended and free draining. Work in a 5-10-10 fertilizer prior to planting. Garlic prefers full sun, but will tolerate light shade. Plant garlic with roots down, pointed end up (8784 bytes)

Separate bulbs into cloves. Use the largest cloves for planting, as smaller cloves produce smaller bulbs. Push the cloves with the root end down, 1 to 2 inches into the soil, about 6 inches apart. Mulch the cloves to prevent heaving during the winter months.

Some top growth may be experienced when first planted, which is fine, new leaves will appear in the spring. Be sure to pinch the coiled scapes on hardneck varieties to produce larger bulbs.

Harvesting and Storing

Garlic is ready for harvesting mid-summer. Wait for the foliage to die off and turn brown. Be careful not to cut into the bulb when lifting the bulbs for harvest. Use a pitchfork and bring up the entire bulb.

Dry garlic in a dry, warm, dark, airy place for a few weeks. Cut the stalks about an inch above the bulb and store in open mesh bags at room temperature. Save a few of your largest bulbs for next year’s planting.

Garlic is a wonderful addition for stews, sauces, dips, pasta dishes, salad dressings and stir-fries. Garlic leaves may also be used fresh, just snip and add to your favorite dish. Roast unpeeled cloves in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then peel and eat or mash into potatoes or butter and enjoy!

Photos: Judy Sedbrook

 

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010