There are Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Garlic.
- Louis Diat
- Louis Diat
A Brief History of Garlic
Garlic is a close relative of the chive, the shallot, and the leek – all members of the onion family. No surprise, then, that the word garlic comes to us from the Old English garleac, meaning "spear leek." The plant, however, existed long before the early Anglo-Saxons. With roots in Asia (some say Kazakhstan, others West China) garlic spread to ancient civilizations in Sumeria, Egypt, India, China, Japan, Greece, and Rome. For nearly 7000 years garlic has been used by humans around the globe for culinary, medicinal, and ceremonial purposes.
While garlic is one of the oldest and most revered plants in the world, it's also notorious for inflaming the passions, warding off evil and being too pedestrian a food to consume. Up until the 1940's, garlic was considered unpalatable to epicurean Americans determined to draw clear lines between themselves and the ethnic cuisine and work-class culture garlic belonged to. Disparaging language – like "Italian perfume" and "Bronx vanilla" – that tied garlic to the bodies of poor immigrants from garlic eating parts of the world flourished before WWII.
Some folks may still be repulsed by the stinking rose, but the popularity of garlic has never been greater. Garlic consumption in the U.S. has tripled since the 1990s. And in response to 80% of garlic sold in the U.S imported from China, the demand for locally grown garlic has also gone up.
There are two subspecies of garlic (Allium Sativum L) – hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) and softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum). The hardneck species has five families – Glazed Purple Stripe, Marble Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, and Rocambole – with many varieties belonging to each one. Hardnecks are planted in the fall, set their roots in the early winter, and form a scape that is most often harvested prior to full bulb formation. Prized for their range and complexity of flavor, hardneck varieties are often referred to as gourmet garlic. The softneck species has two families – Artichoke and Silverskin. Softneck varieties are more easily grown in warm climates and do not produce a scape. Softneck garlic is most of what is available in supermarkets throughout the U.S., the majority of which is either imported from China or grown in California.
In the northeast, hardneck garlic varieties are planted in the fall for a summer harvest. We plant our garlic (Zone 5) between mid and late October, four to six weeks before the ground freezes. Garlic is a forgiving crop but still grows best in rich, well-drained soil, and in full sun. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides crop specific testing and will make recommendations for amending your soil prior to planting.
Once the soil is prepared, garlic bulbs will need to be cracked and cloves separated. It's best to do this as close to planting time as possible to avoid cloves drying out. Be careful not to nick the cloves when splitting them apart. Damaged cloves are more prone to disease. Cloves that lose their skin in the process may still be planted. Sort cloves by size. The largest cloves will usually yield the largest bulbs.
Plant cloves with the root end down and the pointy end up, about 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Cover beds with 4-6 inches of mulch. We use chopped straw.
Garlic is not a good competitor so it's crucial to regularly weed plants once they begin to emerge in the spring. Water like any other garden green and fertilize with nitrogen rich compost as the plants begin grow. Stop fertilizing by mid-May. In early June, plants will send up a flower stalk, otherwise known as a garlic scape. Cut the scapes before they begin to uncoil (about 1/2 inch above the top leaf). Bulb size will be affected if scapes are not removed. Removing the scape redirects energy down to the bulb for the remainder of the growing time. Stop watering two weeks prior to harvest.
Garlic Seed Foundation