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Growing Garlic – A good reason to grow your own

If you’re buying garlic in the grocery store it probably comes from China.  A small percentage might come from Mexico or Argentina.

Supposedly the retailer or food-service provider is required to place a Country of Origin Label on all produce items so you can check.

I don’t want any food that comes from those places — especially China. Chinese suppliers are not regulated by food safety or quality-control guidelines and I’d hate to think of what I might end up eating.

Why it’s Cheap

Chinese garlic is cheap.  At one time they were selling it for less than what it cost them in order to drive the American growers out of production.  That’s why American grown seems so much more expensive than Chinese garlic. (Chinese garlic is half the price of American grown garlic and sometimes 1/5 of the price.)

Facing the Facts

In the late 90’s up until 2009 there was a lot written about contaminated garlic (and everything else) from China. Talk has died down, but that doesn’t mean that the situation has changed.  It just means no one has had enough reason to want to write about it again.

The FDA is suppose to inspect food from more than 130 countries.  But let’s be realistic here.  Last I read, only 450 inspectors were inspecting at ports of entry. It’s only possible for them to inspect 1 to 2% of the shipments.  Even fewer are tested.

Even with those statistics, a Washington Post article in 2007 said that FDA inspectors refused 298 food shipments from China in the first  4 months! Imagine what it would have been if they could have inspected the other 98%!

Disregard for natural health laws

  • It’s a known fact that the Chinese use sewage (also known as sludge or biosolids) to fertilize. As I mentioned in a previous post sludge contains antibiotics, medications, viruses, chemicals, bacteria and parasites. Currently that’s a practice with many American farmers as well.

It seems to me that this “no-no” would be a no brainer, but I guess some people are totally taken in by someone marketing a product even if it’s human waste as fertilizer.

When Chinese garlic is tested and is too contaminated with heavy metal to get into the country — I’ll just bet it’s because it was grown with sewage.

  • Bulbs coming into the country are fumigated with methyl bromide — another thing I don’t want on my garlic.
  • And that brilliant bleached white color? Sorry — not natural.  It’s obtained by the use of chlorine bleach.
  • And of course there are the chemicals to prevent sprouting during the months of travel from China.

My recommendation:

At least buy garlic grown in the United States. (U.S. Organic is better.)  Or — why not grow your own?

Perfect Time to Plant

Mid October is the perfect time to plant here in Virginia.  It’ll give the roots time to get established before the cold sets in and bulbs go dormant. You can plant as long as the ground is not frozen BUT even two weeks after mid October will make a big difference in the growing the roots do before dormancy. So try to plant mid-October.

Put another way, after you see a little green coming out of the ground, the garlic still needs about 30 days to develop enough roots to feed on its own.  So if you’re a lot further North than I am in Virginia, you might have planted your garlic in mid or early September.

Regional if Possible

If you can, try to order from someone regional.  I ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange this year — only because they are in Virginia and their garlic is grown in Virginia.  I had noted another Virginia grower and then lost my note.  I didn’t want to miss out totally so I quickly logged into to SESE website and ordered.  (If your grower is close to you — there’s a better chance the variety will do well in your garden too.)

What to Order – Hardnecks or Softnecks?

Virginia is situated so that both kinds do well here.  If you live in the far south you’ll probably want softnecks; the far north – hardnecks to withstand the winters.

Softnecks

Just for variety (diversity), I ordered a softneck variety, but they’re not my favorite with all those little cloves that are hard to peel. The particular Artichoke type Italian softneck that I ordered is suppose to produce good sized bulbs that store well. (Softnecks are noted for long storage anyway.)

Softnecks are the kind you can braid.

Hardnecks

Then I ordered two varieties of hardnecks. Both are said to have large cloves. (Yeh! easy to peel.)

  • Music — which I’ve heard a lot of good things about. It has especially large cloves — 4 to 6 per bulb!
  • And German Extra-Hardy which has 6 to 8 cloves per bulb and stores well.

You can’t braid the hardnecks, but trade off is — they produce scapes.  The scapes you can harvest early.  (They sell at some farmers markets for $1.00 to $1.50 each)   They’re said to be absolute delicious in cooking. I’m looking forward to that!

FUN for KIDS: Scapes can color what you cook with them. For example: rice cooked with garlic scapes turns a green color. Lots of possibilities for the kids to have fun here.

Keep in mind if you harvest the scapes it decreases the amount of time the bulb will keep in storage. On the other hand you might see as much as a 25% increase in bulb size by cutting the scape.

What Garlic Likes

  • A soil with lots of organic matter
  • Good Drainage
  • Mulch to protect in winter and hold needed moisture,
  • plant about 1 inch deep in the South; 2 to 3 inches in the North because of heaving after a freeze. (Like onions, if you plant garlic too deep you’ll end up with very small bulbs.)
  • space at least 5 to 6 inches.  Bulb size will be larger if they have enough space.

When your Garlic Bulbs Arrive

Keep your bulbs in a cool dry place until you get ready to plant.  Break them apart just before planting.  If you do it sooner the bulbs will start dehydrating and that will lessen the quality of your planting.

Your big cloves will give you your bigger bulbs. ( I’ll eat some of the smaller ones since I know I won’t have room in the garden for all the cloves.)

Final Thoughts

Even if you’re new to gardening — why not grow some garlic.  You can even grow some in a container.

It takes trying various varieties each year to find out what will really do well for you. Once you find that out — you can save a few of the best bulbs for planting next fall.

If you haven’t ordered and want to — get on it!  You’ve got time, but you need to make haste.

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Another Post on Garlic:

Growing Garlic – Yours Large Enough for you?

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Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier

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All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.

18 comments to Growing Garlic – A good reason to grow your own

  • Jill

    I found some wild garlic about 8 years ago and have been growing it ever since in my garden. It has very small bulbs but they are very strong and flavorful!

  • Dennis Fink

    Great info! Thanks Theresa! I’m trying some garlic but didn’t know any of the above so you have revitalized my efforts. The deer discouraged me (most likely the deer since my one planting was behind a “rabbit fence”) by eating the 6 in. tops of 5 of my 1st spring planted cloves.

    I tried to grow red onions also but didn’t get any onions bigger than about an inch and I was hoping I had improved the soil enough but I guess an inch or two of good soil with my hard clay isn’t enough.

    I guess I’m spoiled by tomatoes that aren’t all that picky.

  • anne meissner

    What a great article!

    I’m going to try this in ohio.

  • Theresa

    Jill, your experience with wild garlic is very interesting. I’d love for you to plant some cultivated garlic and give us a comparison. And congratulations on doing what you did. What a great way to make the most of what’s available.

    Anne, I don’t know what your zone is – but you probably turn cold a lot sooner than we do — so try to get that garlic in as soon as possible. So glad the post encouraged you to try! Good Luck!

    Better luck this year Dennis.
    Theresa

  • Jill

    The wild ones want to grow more like garlic chives, but I dug them up and separated each clove. I’ve never got the heads to be bigger than about a quarter (maybe a little large) but very strong and flavorful. It’s been so many years since I bought garlic that I cant remember what kind I orginally bought but they have since mixed in. I can usually tell the difference by the color but I’m buying some “new” this year and I have a separate patch of the wild that I’ll take some from so next year I’ll try to remember to take better notes! lol

  • Theresa

    Jill I think the size of a quarter is tremendous for wild garlic. Am I understanding correctly that it crossed with other that you purchased? (Your words were “–they have since mixed in.”
    Good luck this year!
    Theresa

  • Jill

    I’m thinking that they did cross, but some I can definitely tell are the wild. I really didn’t/don’t know enough about garlic to say either way. And the quarter size wasn’t for them all! And they do get the seed heads and I’ve tried planting those…works well either way!

  • Theresa

    Thanks for the clarification Jill.

  • I just got my 3lbs in for next year’s harvest. I’ve grown it for 2 years now and can’t imagine ever being w/o it! There is no comparison to fresh garlic from your own organic garden! Thanks for the great info, Theresa. I had no idea about the imported garlic! EEK!

  • Theresa

    Homegrown is great stuff indeed! Good hearing from you Bearfoot Mama.

  • Karen Szasz

    Hi Theresa,

    I just stumbled across your website and I am a new veggie gardner and I am really enjoying reading all that you have to offer.
    I am sure that this will not be my last post as I have lots of questions. I planted garlic in October, not sure what I planted, all I know is that I bought it online and followed the directions. I live in Orlando FL, and I am not sure when to harvest the garlic, and once I do is their anything that I need to do with them? Thank You, Karen

  • Theresa

    Hi Karen,
    Welcome to TMG! Nice to have you reading and I hope you will find much to help you in your garden adventure.
    Things in Florida are somewhat different than Virginia — but principles are mostly the same so I think you’ll still find lots to help you.

    Garlic is usually harvested in June or July. I’ll be talking more about it in posts as the time to harvest approaches — so stay tuned.

    You’ll dry (or cure) your garlic — just about like onions. It’s easy. I’ll talk more about it closer to time.

    Again, welcome! Thanks for letting me know you’re here and feel free to ask whatever questions you have
    Theresa

  • Karen Szasz

    Theresa,

    Thank you for your quick response and your warm welcome.

    I won’t worry about the garlic for now…..I will wait until you post at a
    later date.

    I have so many questions, but before I do, I will see by reading to see if it has already been discussed.

    I want to get ready for spring planting, as it’s not too far away for me. I will be starting with only seeds
    this coming year. I have only been gardening since this past May, and sometimes it feels overwhelming
    to get it all ready just to plant, and I don’t want gardening to feel that way. There is so much info to read
    and I want to make this is uncomplicated as I can.

    Thanks again,

    Karen

  • Theresa

    Karen, — you’ve come to the right site for UNcomplicated. And the more your read here and the more you have hands on experience — the more that feeling of overwhelm will disappear. It’s happened already to many of my readers. (Makes me so happy!)

    Congratulations on starting only with seed this year. It’s the best way and is so easy once you get the hang of it! Be sure and search for and read all the posts on wintersown here on TMG. That will help you a lot I think and is a very relaxed way to start your seed. Gives you more time and will really help take some overwhelm away.

    If you have other questions, feel free to email me at Theresa@tendingmygarden.com I will try to help you in in way I can.
    Theresa

  • Aparna

    After reading this article, I checked a few grocery stores around here and yes most of the garlic comes from China. What is more surprising to me is that I live very close to the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy. I would have expected to see more locally grown garlic available, instead the garlic we get has traveled half way around the world!!! What a waste of resources!

  • Theresa

    Yes, Aparana — it’s very sad. It costs more for American growers to raise garlic and many people go with “cheap” which as we know is not necessarily to our benefit. I would not purposefully buy anything from China.

  • Don Rutherford

    Theresa

    You motivated me again with both your messages on growing garlic. I have wanted to for years, but the winter part turned me off, here in Michigan, well, the German variety, which is hardy, should do well. I’m thinking of putting some in with my second crop of radishes, do you think that will work, or do the garlic plants grow the large bulbs early? If that is the case, then I’ll just have to plant patches side by side. When I pull the radishes out it will leave the 5 inch spacing with the radishes growing in between the garlic. I have maple leaves that I can put on for a mulch.

    I am excited again for the fall gardening, Thank You again also.

    Don

  • Theresa

    Don, the garlic grows long roots in the fall, but the bulb doesn’t get large.
    Your combination will be an interesting experiment and I will be very interested in hearing about what happens.
    My gut feeling would prevent me from planting radishes with the garlic, but that’s just me.
    Please keep me posted. I’m very interested in what you are proposing to do.
    Theresa

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