Monday, 01 September 2014 22:00

How does garlic grow?

Did you know that In ancient Greece, Hippocrates used garlic to treat cancer?

  • Latin Name:

    Allium sativum

  • Growth:

    USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 - 9

    Garlic is a hardy, bulbous perennial that is easy to grow year-round in mild climates. It is a flat-leaf onion of the lily family, grows up to 2’ high with pinkish flower heads and roots that extend down about 2’ into the subsoil. It is a close relative of onions, shallots, leeks and chives.


  • Propagation:

    Garlic is almost always propagated asexually by planting individual cloves in the ground as the plant does not produce true seeds. Cloves from a grocery store may not be suitable for planting as they are sometimes treated chemically to inhibit growth in order to extend their shelf life. For this reason, cloves should be purchased from a local nursery or from a mail-order company to ensure successful cultivation.

  • Harvest:

    Garlic is ready to harvest when the tops have yellowed and are bending to the ground. A short dry spell prior to harvest helps cure the garlic, so watering is cut back once the tops begin their decline.

    In northern climates, harvest time will likely be in July or August, but in southern climates, harvest time varies.

    Garlic should always be dug from the ground, rather than pulled, because it establishes a deep, strong root system. Using a fork to loosen the soil around the plant, the bulbs are gently removed by shaking them free. A garden spade may be used instead of a fork, but this method runs a higher risk of accidentally slicing the bulbs.

    Commercial growers use mechanical pickers that bundle the garlic cloves as they are dug up.

  • Storage:

    Garlic has can last 6 to 8 months if stored properly. It must be thoroughly dried before storing. After harvesting, the bulb are washed and then stored in a moisture-free, well-ventilated area for at least one week. In dry, sunny climates, freshly harvested garlic bulbs are hung by their stalks to cure in the sun.

    The drying process is essential, not only to increase garlic’s shelf life, but also to enhance its taste, because drying the bulbs develops and concentrates garlic’s trademark pungent, spicy flavor. The longer the drying process, the more potent the flavor.

    Once the garlic has dried for at least one week, the roots are cut ½” from the bulb and the tops 1”.  After the outer layer of parchment is removed, the bulbs are stored uncovered in a dry, dark, well-ventilated space. It requires plenty of dry air and a small amount of light to prevent sprouting. To prevent mold, dried garlic should never be stored in plastic bags or in the refrigerator.

    Bulbs that are left whole will last for months. However, once cloves are separated from the bulb, their freshness rapidly dwindles.

    “New season” or “young wet” garlic is immature garlic that has been harvested in early summer. It has a mild flavor and is more easily digested than dried garlic. Immature garlic must be stored in the refrigerator immediately after it has been harvested and washed, and should be used within one week of picking.

  • History:

    Garlic is among the earliest documented plants used for medicinal purposes in cultures throughout the ancient world. It is believed to have originated in central Asia, but its first documented medicinal use is in ancient Egypt. Garlic was found in the pyramids of Giza, where it was eaten by the laborers and slaves who built the Great Pyramids (circa 2500 BCE) to prevent disease and increase stamina while they worked in the hot Egyptian sun.

    Great thinkers and physicians of the ancient Greek and Roman empires, including Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder, touted garlic as a curative for several conditions such as cancer, parasites, poor digestion, respiratory problems, and fatigue. Garlic was found in Greek and Roman temples, and is believed to have been consumed by the original Olympian athletes as an early “performance enhancer,” as well as by sailors, soldiers, and laborers. Pliny the Elder also makes reference to the consumption of garlic among African peasantry to prevent fatigue and illness.

    Garlic is also documented as a main staple of the Chinese diet dating back to 2000 BCE, and was prescribed medicinally for respiratory disorders, indigestion, parasites, and depression. It is also cited in early medical texts in India, where it was prescribed as a treatment for arthritis and heart disease, as well as digestive disorders, parasites and respiratory issues.

    In the Middle Ages, garlic was grown in monasteries and used for the same medicinal purposes as in ancient cultures, as well as an immunity against disease during the Great Plague that swept Europe in the 14th century.

    Until the Renaissance, garlic was historically considered a food of the working classes, unfit for consumption by the ruling class. By the late 1500s, garlic was recognized across Europe for its class-transcending therapeutic properties. It was prescribed to all classes as a curative for indigestion and constipation, toothaches, wounds, and for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

    Garlic was brought to the New World by Portuguese and French explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was used prominently in North America during the 19th century as a curative for asthma and other pulmonary disorders, as well as for the treatment of infections and as a diuretic.

  • Top Producers:

    Today, China is by far the top global producer of garlic, with approximately 23 billion pounds grown per year, which accounts for over 75% of worldwide output. It is followed by India, South Korea, Egypt and Russia (FAOSTAT, 2010).

    Products - How is garlic used?:

    Although its medicinal purposes are still touted today, garlic is most widely used for culinary purposes as a seasoning, applied to pasta dishes, breads, salads, soups and stews, marinades, stuffing, oils and more.

  • Top Health Benefits:

    Garlic, nicknamed “the stinking rose,” has an extensive history in herbal medicine. Today, it is recognized as a “superfood” for its well-documented antioxidant, antibiotic, anticoagulant, and cardiovascular health properties.

    Garlic is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, iron and other trace nutrients essential to a healthy diet.

    Because of its high levels of vitamin C and other antioxidants, garlic is a powerful immune system booster. During cold season, daily garlic consumption can serve as an illness-preventative and help in reducing the severity of the symptoms of the common cold and flu.

    The sulphuric compounds in garlic help to reduce inflammation. These compounds also aid in heart health and blood pressure. In order to take the sulphuric compounds from garlic, the body’s red blood cells must produce hydrogen sulfide gas, which expands the blood vessels and helps maintain healthy blood pressure.

    Garlic oil may be applied directly for relief from psoriasis, a skin condition directly linked to inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory effects also help reduce the discomfort caused by cold sores. Raw, sliced garlic cloves can also be used for acne. When applied topically, garlic’s antibacterial properties fight the acne-causing bacteria while providing relief from inflammation.

    Garlic also possesses anti-fungal properties. A garlic water soak, or direct topical application of raw garlic to the affected area can cut the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, or ringworm of the foot.

    Some research indicates that garlic’s antibacterial properties are effective in killing bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus. When paired with safe food handling and cooking practices, garlic may help prevent food poisoning.

    Garlic doesn’t just keep vampires away. It can also be used as a mosquito repellent, either by direct application to the skin or by simply keeping it in the immediate vicinity.

  • Grow it yourself:

    In northern areas, plant garlic six to eight weeks before the first hard frost or in early spring.
    In southern regions, plant garlic between late February and early March. Avoid maturation during hot and humid months.

    A few days prior to planting, break apart the bulb, separating individual cloves while keeping the parchment-like husk attached to the cloves. Select a sunny spot with well-drained, loose soil that has plenty of organic matter. Garlic requires adequate levels of nitrogen, and may require additional fertilizer if its leaves begin to yellow at any point in its development.

    Plant cloves at least four inches apart and approximately two inches deep, with the pointed end of the clove facing upward. If there is a threat of frost, the bed should be mulched. Shoots will begin to emerge in spring, as warm weather arrives, at which point mulch is removed. Cut off any scapes (leafless, edible, sometimes flowering stems) that emerge, as these may decrease bulb size. Water every three to five days during the bulbing period.


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