Now is the time to plant garlic. When I think about garlic three things come to mind: vampires, my great-grandmother and the garlic-mashed potatoes my husband and brother-in-law made a few years back. Vampires are a given. Since late October is the time to plant garlic, Halloween is the end of October and vampires are associated with Halloween, it makes sense that my mind would link garlic and vampires together. Plus, who hasn’t heard of the folklore that claims garlic wards off vampires? There’s a lot of lore surrounding garlic, but I’ll get to that later.
Now about the link between my great-grandmother, Corlie Airlie Starr Schmidt, and garlic. Corlie and her husband William started Garland Nursery in 1937. They settled on the property around 1903 and William farmed it. They had workers help on the farm and Corlie did all the cooking. She is well-known in family lore for having two pet skunks named Fleur and Flower and for her garden. Corlie’s garden is what we now call the rock garden (probably because there are a lot of rocks in it), which we are in the very slow process of relandscaping. Corlie was a princess as part of the Pioneer Queen and her court, a part of Corvallis’ 1957 centennial celebration. Each of the women on the court were from pioneer families. Corlie was the daughter of Clay Starr, who came to Oregon in 1852. Apparently there are dolls of the Pioneer court in the collection at the Benton County Historical Museum. I didn’t know about that. I’m going to have to check it out. Anyway, great-grandma Schmidt lived well into her nineties. I barely knew her. But aside from the other items I have mentioned here, the biggest thing I remember about her is that she credited her long life to 3 things: Listerine, honey and garlic! So whenever I think about garlic, I remember her.
Now a little bit about additional garlic lore. Besides vampires, garlic is supposed to ward off other evil beings and the evil eye. Roman soldiers ate it to give them bravery and Egyptian slaves for vigor. Garlic is considered a fiery plant, linked to the planet Mars and blood. It’s many medical attributes include that it will, “prevent heart attacks, reduce cancer risk, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve digestion and act as an antibiotic.” (Paul Bergen, The Healing Power of Garlic). It is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Tibetan monks were forbidden from entering sacred places after eating garlic. Several other religions had a similar rule. However, garlic’s reputation as an aphrodisiac (and it’s tendency to inflame) may have more to do with this last prohibition rather than because of it’s smell.
So now the connection to those famous garlic-mashed potatoes. My husband and brother-in-law were in charge of making the potatoes. I don’t know if it was a guy thing or not, but they wanted to make sure the garlic flavor stood out, so they put in about double or more of the amount of garlic that a normal recipe would call for. It was delicious. However, I could smell the garlic through the pores of my skin for several days!
There are two basic types of garlic: hard neck and soft neck. Hard neck varieties are more deeply flavored, often hot. They are easy to peel and produce large cloves. They do not store as long but will still keep for 6-8 months. Soft neck varieties have soft, braidable leaves and more, but smaller, cloves per bulb. Soft necks can be either very mild or very hot. They are long storing, usually lasting 8-12 months.
Now for the how to grow portion. Garlic does not get harvested until summer, so plan accordingly. Garlic likes a well-drained garden soil. If you have clay, work in a lot of compost into the soil. Break the bulb into cloves. Plant the cloves 1-2 inches deep with the root side down (usually the point faces up). Space 4 inches apart. Rows should be 8 inches apart. In the spring, fertilize with a good organic fertilizer. Water regularly. When new growth stops, stop fertilizing and cut back on the watering. Flower stalks emerge in June. Cut these off. (They can be sauteed or eaten in salads). The leaves will begin to turn brown. It is time to harvest when 2/3 of the leaves are brown. For more detailed growing instructions, click here.