Backyard vegetable gardens are a great way to grow your own food, teach your children about food production and include landscaping features that make your yard more functional.
Urban farming, even on a small scale, allows you to enjoy the health benefits of gardening and spending time outdoors, as well as the advantage of eating foods that are locally grown without unnecessary pesticides and chemicals.
Many home gardeners begin their gardening journey with a few containers of tomatoes, peppers or easy-to-grow herbs, or a small patch of zucchini or carrots.
These are among the easiest produce items to learn to grow in your backyard and will almost always provide you with at least a few pieces of homegrown produce with very little effort.
When you are ready to take the next step and branch out to other options that require a little more effort but are still very easy to grow, garlic should be at the top of your list.
This flavorful choice is also an attractive addition to your garden and can even be used in decorative borders and flowerbeds.
Why Grow Garlic?
Garlic is relatively easy to grow, has a long shelf life once cured and makes even the most mundane of dishes delicious.
Aside from its fantastic flavor, garlic also offers a variety of health benefits that may make you rethink your meal plan to include more in your diet.
Here are ten proven and potential health benefits from eating garlic:
1. Studies have shown that garlic can reduce inflammation, which can reduce pain and chronic symptoms.
2. Research suggests garlic may provide protection against certain cancers.
3. The beneficial allicin in garlic may help you maintain a healthy weight.
4. Garlic lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels.
5. Adding garlic to your diet can help you manage your blood pressure.
6. Some natural health proponents swear by garlic for preventing the common cold.
7. Garlic has antiviral properties.
8. Garlic has antibacterial properties.
9. Garlic can help diabetics regulate their blood sugar.
10. Garlic helps protect the heart from cardiovascular ailments and free radicals.
To get the most out of the garlic you add to your meals, wait until the last 10 minutes of cooking before adding it to the dish.
Garlic lovers can also use this medicinal plant for a variety of topical purposes, including treating acne, psoriasis, toothaches and athlete’s foot.
Where to Plant Garlic
Garlic grows best when planted in sunny spots, so avoid planting cloves in shady areas of your garden.
You can plant garlic in the ground, and it can be particularly beneficial to plant it as part of an edible, decorative border or flowerbed.
Garlic lends itself well to companion planting near lettuces, since it can stave off aphids, but should not be planted near potatoes, peas or legumes.
While you can plant it in the ground, you may want to consider raised garden beds instead.
Planting garlic – or other vegetables – in raised garden beds can limit weed growth, allow you to better manage soil content, and allow you to keep a closer eye on your soil’s dampness, which can affect your crop.
The clay soil we find in the San Diego area is not ideal for good garlic growth, so this is another reason you may want to consider raised beds.
Garlic is one of the many plants that benefit from crop rotation.
Because of this, you will want to plant your garlic in a different garden bed or area of your yard each year.
It is fine to plant garlic in the same spot every few years, but you will want to plant non-allium vegetables in the years in between.
This will help you maintain better soil and avoid worsening pest and pathogen problems that can plague garlic plants.
When to Plant Garlic
Some folks plant garlic in spring when they are planting most of the other vegetables in their garden; however, while this is possible, it is not your best option.
Garlic planted in spring will still provide you with a summer harvest, but the bulbs will be significantly smaller than those that are planted at a better time of the year.
The best time of year to plant garlic is usually in the fall.
However, in sunny Southern California, we have a bit more leeway and can plant our cloves as late as December and get nice, big bulbs when it is time to harvest our crops in the summer.
If you happen to live in area of San Diego County or Riverside County where the ground freezes in winter, you will want to plant your crop at least a month before the first freeze.
This will allow your garlic plants to get settled in before going dormant for the coldest part of the year, and then beginning to grow again once the temperatures begin to rise in spring.
How to Plant Garlic
Growing garlic begins with breaking up a bulb into individual cloves.
Be careful not to damage the cloves during this process.
You will then want to soak your cloves in a mixture of one gallon of water and one tablespoon of baking soda to get rid of fungi and loosen the skins enough to be easily removed.
Remove and discard the skins without damaging the cloves.
Plant your cloves about eight inches apart and about three inches deep with the pointy end pointing up.
How to Harvest, Cure and Store Garlic
Your garlic will be ready to harvest in summer.
You will know it is time to prepare for the harvest once the lower leaves begin to turn brown.
When the bottom one-third of the leaves have turned, it is time to dry out the soil by pulling back some of the mulch and refraining from watering your garlic plants.
When the bottom half of the leaves have turned brown (the top half will still be green), it will be time to harvest.
Make sure the soil is dry before you remove your bulbs.
When removing the bulbs, do not pull them out by the leaves, this can dislodge the stalk and cause rot.
Gently dig down and loosen the earth to allow you to lift the garlic out of the soil without damaging it.
Leave the leaves on the garlic while you cure it.
You can cure your garlic by either laying them in a single layer out of the sun in a warm spot or gathering them in small bundles and hanging them out of the sun in a dry area for at least four weeks.
The bulbs will look dirty, and you might be tempted to clean them up a bit, but you should really leave them alone for at least a week before brushing off the dirt.
Once your garlic bulbs have cured, you can remove the majority of the stalk and store them in paper bags, terra cotta pots, mesh produce bags or a well-ventilated produce basket.
Do not store it in the refrigerator, and avoid storing it in air-tight containers or humid environments.
Tips for Growing Garlic
Here are five tips to help you successfully grow garlic in your backyard vegetable garden.
1. Prepare the Soil
Garlic will grow in just about any type of soil, but for the best results, enrich your soil with compost or mulch.
Garlic does best in looser soil with good drainage.
2. Do Not Over-Water
Soil that is too damp for too long can cause rot.
Your garlic plants only need a total of about an inch of water each week, so be careful not to over-water them – particularly as you near time to harvest.
3. Cut the Scapes
Most garlic-growing experts recommend cutting the scapes to keep them from stealing energy from the growing bulb, while others say there is no need to cut the scapes.
Some varieties have curving, flowering scapes that actually look quite nice in a floral arrangement.
Young scapes, which are tenderer, can be added to soups and salads for a light, garlicky flavor.
Since you can use them in vases or for cooking – and some experts say you should cut them to get better bulb growth – you might as well remove them and put them to good use.
4. Use Garden Markers
If you are planning on planting more than one variety of garlic, you can be fairly certain you will forget which is which once they begin to grow and the stalks all look the same.
Use garden markers to label your rows to help you remember which variety is planted where.
Make sure to also label your bunches when you hang them to cure.
5. Rotate Your Crops
When rotating your crops, it is important to keep in mind that is not just garlic you need to avoid planting in the same spot year after year.
You also should not plant other alliums in that spot, which include chives, leeks and onions.
Do you grow garlic in your garden? Tell us your tips and tricks for a successful harvest in the comments below.
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