Halloween marks the mid-point of our monthlong window for planting garlic here in Charlotte, mid-October through mid-November. Bury those pale little cloves, so cool and still, in the garden, and like magic they will produce big fat bulbs around the Fourth of July.
Garlic takes time but not much space. You can plant cloves only 2 inches to 6 inches apart. Start by separating garlic bulbs into individual cloves, then plant each clove pointy end up. Cover with an inch or 2 of soil.
If you plant too shallowly, cold can cause damage. A light mulch of straw helps keep the soil warm and deters weeds. Garlic may stop vampires, but its skinny leaves can’t fight off weeds at all.
Garlic likes fertile soil high in organic matter, according to Jeanine Davis with N.C. Cooperative Extension. Home gardeners can add an organic, all-purpose fertilizer such as Espoma Garden-Tone (3-4-4) or equivalent at about 7 pounds per 100 square feet before planting. Digging in an inch of homemade leaf compost also helps keep garlic happy.
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Keep soil evenly moist but not saturated.
Novice growers face a lot of choices deciding which variety to grow. Simplifying a bit, garlic can be classified as “softneck” (the kind in the grocery store) and “hardneck.”
Both produce tasty cloves, and hardnecks also produce an edible flower bud, or “scape.” Hardnecks are the safest bet for beginners here; the variety Music has done very well for me. Ask a local gardener or farmer (at farmers market) for recommendations.
Another option is “elephant garlic,” which forms a huge bulb the size of a softball. Botanically, it is a leek, not a garlic, with a mild but decidedly garlicky flavor. Elephant garlic is not smooshed through a press. Instead, you can roast it, slice it into soups, or – my favorite – rub it in olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until soft. Then, spread this “cajun butter” on the best French bread you can find.
Modern science gives garlic mixed reviews. According the National Institutes of Health, garlic may slightly lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and slow development of hardening of the arteries.
Garlic does appear to be relatively safe, in spite of one major problem – garlic breath. .
More worrisome is garlic’s blood-thinning properties, similar to aspirin, and its potential for burns to skin.
Meanwhile, what about vampires?
The findings are contradictory. Norwegian researchers Sandvik and Baerheim rigorously tested the “garlic repels vampires” hypothesis in 1994. Owing to a lack of vampires, they used bloodsucking leeches instead. As their abstract states:
“In strictly standardized research surroundings, leeches could attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases. The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong, and this study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.”