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Fall is the time to plant garlic

Garlic is a medicinal and culinary herb closely related to onions and chives and is native to the Mediterranean region of Africa and Europe. Though it's related to onions, it differs in that garlic bulbs separate into many divisions or cloves, each covered by a white or pinkish papery sheath. Also, while the onion leaves are tubular, garlic leaves are long, narrow, and flat with a flower stalk that rises 2 to 3 feet.

Garlic has long been the favored garden crop to fend off vampires, another reason to grow them if you live in an area plagued with nocturnal, blood-sucking pests resembling George Hamilton.

To test this theory, Norwegian Baerheim Sandvik conducted extensive research. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Sandvik could not find actual vampires for the study, and thus choose to use an alternative blood-sucking pest, leaches (I'm not making this up!).

In what they report as "strictly standardized research surroundings," leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases.

When they preferred the garlic, the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand.

Sandvik concluded, "The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a vampire laden development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered."

Decide for yourself, but bear in mind that their "strictly standardized research surroundings" may actually have been a Norwegian pub flowing in aquavit...potent Norwegian firewater.

Not all garlic is well suited to growing conditions in northwest Minnesota, so be sure to order varieties that are adapted to our area, rather than planting garlic from the grocery store.

Garlic needs full sunlight and is best adapted to well-drained soils high in organic matter. Garlic can be planed early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, but fall planting is generally preferred since proper development requires a "cold treatment" (our winters usually provides an adequate cold treatment). Plant the cloves in later September after our first killing frost.

Fall planting usually produces larger bulbs than spring planting. However, if you plant in the fall, mulch the garlic with 2 or 3 inches of straw or hay for winter protection. If flower stalks appear in spring, cut them off so the plants can devote their energy to developing bulbs, unless you want the flowers for ornamental purposes.

Spring planted garlic may work, but generally produces weak shoots and poorly developed bulbs. Plant individual cloves flat end down, 1 to 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. If you plant them "upside down", the garlic will sprout next spring in a garden somewhere west of Beijing, China. (Okay, now I'm kidding, this usually takes much longer than one year.) In truth, cloves planted upside down develop a curved shoot that results in misshapen bulbs.

The bulbs will be ready to harvest when the leaves turn brown and begin to collapse, depending on variety, sometime in August. Lift the bulbs, with foliage, and cure them in a cool, dry, airy location for 2 to 3 weeks. An old window screen on saw-horses in an area with good air circulation works well. Clean off the dry, loose soil before storing garlic bulbs and store them in a cool, dry place in open containers, such as baskets or mesh bags, or braid the dried leaves to hang the garlic. Do not refrigerate them.

Garlic cloves can be peeled, chopped and frozen, but it is difficult to contain the flavor and aroma. It is generally not practical to dry and powder garlic at home, since the flavor is inferior to fresh garlic. Because of its strong odor, insects are rarely a problem in garlic.

For more information on this, or other topics, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at Source: University of Minnesota Horticulture.