What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of garlic? Warding off vampires? To-die-for pizza topping? Bad breath? This diminutive bulb holds a prominent place in our cultural and culinary imagination, and for centuries, people across the globe have regarded it with a similar fascination. This is undoubtedly because garlic packs a punch.
We’re all familiar with garlic’s strong flavor and pungent odor, but some might be surprised to learn that it also has powerful antifungal and antimicrobial properties--so powerful, in fact, that it was relied on as an antiseptic by the Russian army during World War I. It also provides an array of medical benefits, including reducing high blood pressure, boosting the immune system, reducing blood sugar levels, and aiding in the absorption of thiamine (Vitamin B1). Garlic’s strong smell also deters pests (garden pest insects, mosquitoes, and small mammals) in the garden. Finally, garlic is a staple flavor agent in cuisine in South America, the Mediterranean, North Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Perhaps all these attributes help explain why in folklore from the Philippines to Ancient Greece to Central Europe, garlic has been said to ward off monsters, evil spirits, and vampires, respectively.
Happily for Central Texas gardeners, this impressive crop is easy to grow in our region. Plant garlic in the fall, between mid-September and late November. Garlic grows most successfully in full sun, though it will also grow in partial shade, and it prefers soil with good drainage and a high content of organic material (that means compost!). To plant garlic from cloves, separate the cloves from a head of garlic, leaving the papery covering on each clove. Plant cloves 4 to 6 inches apart and about 1 inch deep, with the pointier side facing up, as this is the side that will sprout. Water and cover with an additional 1 inch layer of compost. As with any crop, keep garlic well-mulched and maintain an even level of moisture in the soil as it grows. Garlic will fare fine during mild freezing weather but cover with row cloth during hard freezes. Some varieties of garlic will produce a scape, which is a hollow, round flower stalk. Harvest these and eat them like green onions–they’re delicious! Removing them also encourages the plant to put more energy into its root, which results in fatter heads of garlic for you to harvest later. If planted at the right time of year in healthy soil, garlic is not susceptible to many pests or diseases, and in fact can ward off certain insect pests.
When the garlic leaves turn brown and fall over, which will happen 3-6 months from planting, it’s almost time to harvest. Stop watering for a week, which will encourage the plant to thicken the protective papery covering around the head of garlic, then pull the whole plant out of the ground and allow it to cure it in a cool, dark place (be sure to store harvested garlic out of the light, or it will sprout). Once dry, if stored in those same conditions, garlic will keep for several months.
Roasting garlic is a great way to prepare this favorite bulb because its slowheat develops a tamer, even flavor. Spread roasted garlic on toasted bread in place of, or with, butter; add to mashed potatoes for garlic mashed potatoes; add to homemade vinaigrette for a robust salad dressing—the ideas really are endless!
1 head of garlic, intact
½ tsp. olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the whole head of garlic in half.
Drizzle the olive oil on each half.
Wrap each garlic half in foil with the cut side up.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator and may ward off vampires.