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Spring arrives quite early in Southern California, and I am always excited when I feel the new welcome warmth and the smell of the newly turned earth. So, I have planted some cool to warm weather vegetables that are growing well now.
I’ve got romaine (green and red), collards, kale (Russian and broad leaf), Chinese (Napa) cabbage, leeks, and scallions. However, garlic is the jewel in the crown, and it must be planted now if there is to be a good harvest in September.
There are two main types of garlic: ‘softneck’ which can be braided, has excellent storage qualities at cool temperatures, and the strongest of flavor. ‘New York White’ is a ‘softneck’ well suited to us here on the West Coast. ‘Stiffneck’ has stiff leaves and stems, is among the most winter-hardy garlics, and is of milder taste. ‘German Extra-Hardy’ is the easiest to grow, has large bulbs and cloves, and has long roots which enable it to survive the winter. I thought you might like knowing about the two types.
Here in Southern California where we have mild winters, garlic can be started from cloves in late fall to early spring. I like to start it from cloves right now because I have found from long experience that it gets a surge of energy from the crescendo of warmth and sunlight. I always tell what I know from my actual gardening experience.
You can order various garlics from Johnny’s Seeds. He is very dependable and has high quality. I do, however, enjoy going a ‘round to the ethnic markets and buying common white garlic as well as special garlics such as ‘Ajo Red’ and ‘Russian Red’.
Garlic is so easy and enjoyable to grow. First, spade the earth to a foot in deep. Spade it a second time as you add in redwood compost or something similar. Hand out a light sprinkling of 16-16-16 fertilizer and chop that in with a hoe.
Now, using a dibble or a piantatoio (piuolo), make holes 2” to 3” deep, about 3’’ apart. Drop in the cloves root ends first, cover with nice earth, and tamp it all down with your foot, what else? Then soak the earth with water and leave it until the garlic leaf spears penetrate into the ambiant air.
The young plants should be given lots of fertilizer (without burning them) and water. Garlic is a rich feeder. In Sicily I once saw a neighbor’s garlic plot that was lush. He watered it regularly and deeply.
Garlic has served humanity since pharaonic times. Clay models of garlic cloves were placed in the pharaoh’s tomb as spiritual ‘helpers’, as ushabti-like amulets. Also, garlic must be praised as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, health supporting herb.
I love garlic. One sunny warm afternoon in Agrigento, the scent of melanzane fried in olive oil and garlic came wafting into our room. The landlord was cooking a delectable late afternoon lunch. You know what my wife and I had for dinner that night; melanzane con aglio e olio e pecorino romano!