Deb Babcock: Plant garlic now for bigger bulbs

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

— Spaghetti sauce, Caesar salad, shrimp scampi and many other favorite foods have a common ingredient that can be easily grown here in the mountains: garlic.

This U.S. Department of Agriculture Zone 3 perennial is a member of the onion family, though it differs somewhat by producing several small bulbs, called cloves, instead of one large bulb. The leaves of the plant, which can grow 2 to 3 feet high, are flat rather than round and hollow like onions and chives. A flower stalk originates from the center of the plant and produces a sphere of white flowers with a pale lavender tint. The plant flourishes in full sun and soil that is high in organic content and kept moist. Dry soil and clay soil will cause the bulbs to form into irregular shapes.

Garlic is generally planted from the cloves since these plants rarely produce seeds. For the best garlic, use smooth, fresh outer cloves of the garlic bulb. And for the best yields, don’t divide the garlic bulb until just before planting the cloves in the ground. You’ll need to divide and replant your garlic about every 4 to 5 years.

To obtain the largest bulbs next summer, plant your garlic cloves now. Set them into the ground about an inch deep and about three inches apart in an upright position and water well. Cut back the flower stalks when they appear in the spring so that the plant’s energy goes down into the bulbs. If you’re not growing garlic to harvest for cooking, leave the flowers as a pretty garden decoration.

Besides its tastiness, one of the great features of garlic is its lack of pests and diseases. In fact, garlic is a wonderful plant to pair up with roses, tomatoes, cabbages, eggplant or other plants that tend to attract aphids or other pests. Garlic serves as a deterrent to repel these devilish pests. However, do not plant garlic near peas or beans as it is known to inhibit the growth of those plants.

You may begin harvesting garlic bulbs as soon as the leaves begin to turn yellow and dry up, probably in early September. Simply dig up the bulbs (rather than pulling on the foliage), shake off excess dirt and hang up to dry in an area with good air circulation. Once the bulbs have dried, use scissors to cut off the tops and roots and store in a dry place such as a basket or container with air holes. The bulbs should store well for six to seven months.

Then use the cloves as a wonderful flavoring for sauces, salads, soups, breads and pasta dishes. Note that garlic can turn a purplish-blue color when used in canning or acidic foods. This usually happens when the garlic is immature or overly dried-out but does not affect the taste or edibility of the dish.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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