Growing, Storing, and Preparing Garlic: Kitchen Gardening Tips

July is the time of year when most gardeners across the country are harvesting their garlic bulbs. In mild winter areas, plant garlic in the fall to over winter and grow for harvest in early summer. In cold weather areas, the bulbs are planted in early spring for summer harvest. I think that garlic is one of the easiest and most rewarding crops, and, of course, no good cook can imagine working in a kitchen without fresh garlic as a basic ingredient. The cloves are fatter, juicier, and easier to peel, with a full, complex, and less bitter flavor. Well-grown garlic will keep for months if properly stored in a cool dry dark place. Don’t keep garlic in the refrigerator – it is too cold and too dry for good storage.

To grow good garlic, you should start out with the biggest cloves you can find. It’s fun to experiment with several different varieties and there are dozens to try from specialty sources. Break the heads up into individual cloves. Plant each clove in a sunny spot in good rich soil, tip side up about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep and six inches apart. In mild winter areas, plant anytime from October until late November. Where winters are severe, plant in early spring when soil can be easily worked. Each clove will sprout from the tip – garlic leaves look like fat scallions. Keep them well weeded and watered and be sure to feed at least several times with a well-balanced fertilizer.

How to Grow Garlic

When growing garlic, the best time to put out the plant is in the fall, and it should be planted like any other bulb. Grow garlic by planting them two to three inches deep

Over the growing season, each individual clove will grow and produce a whole head of garlic – surely one of Mother Nature’s most amazing little multiplication acts and one that never fails to awe and delight me! By mid to late June, garlic tops will begin to die back. Wait a few weeks to let the heads toughen up and mature. Then use a spading fork to carefully lift the new heads from the ground. Put the heads in a cool dry place with good air circulation out of the sun to cure for 10 days to 2 weeks. Store out of direct light in a cool place.


Great Uses of Garlic

Your freshly grown garlic will be at its flavor peak the first few months after harvest in July for August, so it’s a good time to start enjoying lots of the pungent cloves in the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to use my new crop is to cut cloves in half and rub them vigorously up across toasted or grilled slices of good crusty bread. Then drizzle with fruity olive oil and top with a plump slice of ripe tomato fresh from the garden. You can also top with freshly grated cheddar or Parmesan and a little parsley or basil and grill under the broiler until the cheese is melted for a wonderful summer lunch.

Since fresh garlic’s flavor is at its sweetest and most well-rounded this month, use the fruits of the high summer garden – like cucumbers and tomatoes and herbs like chives, scallions, basil, and parsley – to make delicious fresh garlic-scented gazpacho. Enjoy it on days when it’s too hot to cook. A good trick to use when working with raw garlic is to use a mortar and pestle and work together equal amounts of chopped garlic and coarse salt until it becomes a smooth creamy mixture. I’m not sure of the chemistry, but the resulting flavor is outstanding. Use this trick whenever you have a recipe that calls for both raw garlic and salt.

When you are in the mood to do a little cooking with garlic, try roasting whole heads. Roasted garlic has a wonderful caramelized flavor that is incomparable when added to braised or sautéed vegetables. If you are cooking a roast of any kind, insert thin slivers of fresh garlic into the meat a few inches apart before you put it on the grill or in the oven. Fresh garlic adds such a gentle flavor note that the meat will come out twice as succulent and tasty as you expect. When cooking onions and garlic together as a base in a recipe, sauté the onions for a few minutes first, before adding the garlic. If you are cooking garlic by itself in a little olive oil or butter, remember to keep the heat very low and cook very slowly. You want the garlic to release its fragrance and flavor, just until it begins to turn translucent – be very careful not to let it burn. Even slightly burned garlic has a bitter flavor and should be discarded.

When you grow your own crop of garlic, you’ll have lots to work with and undoubtedly some to share with friends and family. Try some of the books I’ve included for delicious use of your garden’s garlic bounty.

Inspired by the success of their James Beard Award-winning work, Onions, Onions, Onions, authors Fred and Linda Griffith now take on another stinky favorite: garlic. Shunned for centuries even in France and Italy because of its strong flavor and odor, garlic was considered a low-class seasoning, only winning wide acceptance in cooking outside working-class kitchens after World War II. This book provides detailed guidance for buying, storing, and preparing garlic, and explains the pros and cons of using a garlic press. There are also 200-plus recipes, many for ethnic dishes rich in garlic. There is Brandade, the creamy French dish made with salt cod, and Spanish Sopa de Ajo, a pungent peasant soup of garlic, bread, and oil with poached eggs. Even cozy macaroni and cheese is punctuated with three pressed, plump cloves of garlic. Dessert is not forgotten – how about ice cream topped with golden, caramelized Honey-Poached Garlic Sauce for something really different? While only experienced cooks may want to attempt dishes like Veal Brisket Roasted with Garlic, Onions, and Plums, any garlic lover with modest skills can whip up the Special Marinara Sauce or grill the Flank Steak with Balsamic Vinegar Marinade.

The Great Garlic Book: A Guide with Recipes

Whether you’re looking to outwit witches, stave off vampires, or simply prepare a great meal, The Great Garlic Book is just what the doctor ordered. Subtitled A Guide with Recipes, the book is a cornucopia of information about this aromatic root. Author Chester Aaron has spent a decade cultivating more than 50 varieties of garlic – there are hundreds worldwide – and he generously shares his wealth of knowledge here. There’s an entertaining section on garlic facts and fiction; a chapter on growing your own garlic; and finally, a selection of fabulous recipes, including Forty-Clove Garlic Chicken (made famous at San Francisco’s Stinking Rose restaurant), that will have you asking your guests if they’d care for a little chicken with their garlic. For garlic lovers everywhere, The Great Garlic Book is likely to become the garlic bible.