Plant Answers  >  Garlic


October is the month of stinking delights and except for the onion, garlic, Allium sativum L., is probably the most widely used "stinker" of the cultivated Alliums. Garlic is a condiment often used as a flavoring and seasoning in prepared food products such as soups, sausages, and pickles. It is also frequently used in salads and other home cooking. Garlic salt is made from pulverized, dehydrated garlic cloves. In some countries, the green tops are used as well as the bulbs.

The medicinal value of garlic has been noted throughout history. Its use has been associated with treatments for polio, tuberculosis, typhus, and cholera. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have now found that allicin, a bactericide in garlic, can inhibit the growth of enzymes in tumor cells. Mice inoculated with cancerous cells and given allicin did not develop malignant tumors.

The Romans disliked the strong flavor and odor of garlic, but fed it to their laborers to make them strong and to their soldiers to make them courageous.

Garlic does not produce true seed but is propagated by planting cloves, which are the small bulblets, or segments, making up the whole garlic bulb. In Texas, garlic is a perennial plant. Garlic can be planted in the late fall. It is extremely frost hardy, and if planted in October, may have tops showing above the soil and be well rooted by November. The crop will mature in June. The growing period before bulbing may be too short for satisfactory yields if planted in the spring.

Bulb formation in garlic occurs in response to the lengthening days of spring, and bulbing and maturity are considerably hastened if temperatures are high. In addition to these requirements, the dormant cloves (divisions of the large bulb), or young growing plants, must be exposed to cold temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees F. for one or two months in order to initiate bulbing. Plants that are never exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees F. may fail to form bulbs. With fall plantings, the cold treatment is accomplished quite naturally throughout winter. However, excessive exposure to low temperatures may initiate cloves in the axils of the leaves near the bulb surface, which causes the maturing bulbs to appear rough. Roughness may also be increased by early planting, heavy fertilization, wide spacing and other factors that favor vigorous growth of individual plants.

Seedstalk formation (bolting) is not induced by exposure to low temperatures, as is the case with onions. This means that a wide range of fall planting dates is permissible for this crop.

The cloves, when used for propagation, are commonly termed 'seed' or 'sets.' Most seed companies sell garlic cloves under the name of garlic sets, and make no mention of separate varieties. In Texas, seed firms may sell two distinct types of garlic varieties: a.) Creole (Early Louisiana, White Mexican), and b.) Italian (Late or Pink). Creole is earlier than Italian, but does not store as well.

Bulbs that have been selected for planting are usually stored in unheated areas with the dry tops attached. The separation of bulbs into cloves for planting should be delayed until planting time, as whole bulbs store better than prepared cloves. To prepare the cloves, the tops of the bulbs are cut or torn off and the bulbs are broken apart, usually by hand. The mother bulbs should be thoroughly dry before breaking.

Each large garlic bulb contains about 10 cloves. All the cloves are planted except the long, slender ones in the center of the bulb and those that are less than one gram in weight. Also, bulbs that have side growths should be discarded. Garlic yields generally increase as the mother bulbs increase in size from small to large. This appears to be an effect of clove size, since large mother bulbs usually yield larger cloves.

Garlic is usually planted 3 to 6 inches apart in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Higher yields can be obtained with cloves planted as close as 2 inches and in rows that are 12 inches apart. But, as the density of the planting increases, the size of the individual bulb decreases. The depth of planting is 1 to 2 inches, depending on soil conditions. The cloves must not be so deep that the soil will interfere with the swelling of the bulbs, nor so shallow that rain will wash them out. The vertical placement of cloves by hand into planting furrows will insure production of straight?necked, high?yielding plants.

Soil that is suitable for onions will generally produce good garlic. Soils that have high organic matter content are preferable to other types, since they hold moisture well and do not pack, preventing proper bulb expansion. Heavy soils tend to prevent the uniform expansion of the bulb resulting in irregular shapes and rough surfaces, which are objectionable.

Garlic is shallow rooted, and deep cultivation should be avoided as the damage to the roots will retard growth and reduce yields. Weed removal in the plant rows should be done by hand?hoeing.

Most garlic roots grow in the upper 2 feet of soil, and the soil should be soaked to this depth at each irrigation throughout the growing season to ensure that the roots receive a continuous supply of moisture. As the crop approaches maturity, watering should cease, so that the soil will dry for harvesting. Continued irrigation will cause rotting of the root and bulb scales.

When the tops become partly dry and bend to the ground, garlic is usually ready for harvest. The bulbs are usually pulled and gathered into windrows. The tops are placed uppermost in the windrow to protect the bulbs from the sun, and the garlic is left in the garden for a week or more to dry (or cure) thoroughly. Curing can also be accomplished in a well?ventilated shed. The bulbs must be thoroughly dried before being stored.

When properly cured, garlic stores well under a wide range of temperatures. Garlic production requires a long-term commitment. Since this crop is long-term, plant it in areas that can remain undisturbed when spring cultivation is necessary. Of course, at least 6 hours of sunlight is required daily.

So, that is the story on garlic production. If you want to discourage love affairs and keep fellow gardeners at arm's length, you may want to plant a row of garlic!



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