How to Grow and Use Elephant Garlic

 

My grandfather Dariel Fraley was an avid farmer and was given a few cloves of elephant garlic in the 80s – he planted them on a fence line and shared the cloves each year.  My grandparents house is no longer standing but the elephant garlic patch is! My father Randall Reid also loved gardening and he acquired the garlic from his father in law and passed on how to take care of it to me! They both are no longer living on this earth so it makes it extra special to carry on the garlic growing, cooking, and of course sharing!  The best part of this adventure is sharing this tasty plant with lots of people – making new friends and connecting with old ones!

Elephant Garlic is hardy, disease resistant stock and we strongly recommend growing it organically without any poison sprays or chemicals.

SOIL

Elephant garlic, indeed all garlic, appreciates well drained soil and will not grow in an area with any standing water during the winter months. Add well rotted compost or cow manure added to the soil to improve the texture and fertility. If you are rotating your garlic, plant a cover crop prior to planting time, either in fall or early spring.

Some recommendations for a a cover crop are clover, winter rye, alfalfa or vetch. If you are not rotating your garlic planting this season, then once garlic is harvested, plant a warm season cover crop such as buckwheat to incorporate organic matter back into your soil. Buckwheat is a quick maturing cover crop that grows only in warm weather so it is ideal to plant before garlic. When you work the cover crop into the soil, if you must till, do so only deep enough to turn under the cover crop. The same goes for working in compost and other soil amendments including fertilizer. Turn the soil just deep enough to work the material into the soil or if your soil is friable you may not need to till at all.

The pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for best crops. More and more gardeners are learning ways to feed the microbes living in the soil. Some of the methods include minimize plowing , tilling and digging and use organic mulches or compost on a regular basis during the growing season not just at planting time.

Finally, always keep the soil covered with live crops or a mulch. When you are not growing a crop, sow a cover crop to feed the soil microbes. Both soil texture and fertility vastly improve. Thus you will have bigger and better yields of any crop including garlic. Garlic, especially Elephant Garlic, needs not only well drained soil, but fertile soil as well. It is important to add organic fertilizer or well rotted compost or manure at planting time. In the spring when garlic begins to grow again, add more nutrients in the form of well rotted manure or compost. The more vigorous and healthy the leaf growth in the spring usually the bigger the bulbs and cloves will be at harvest. Honestly though – it grows everywhere – I even accidentally had some growing in my gravel driveway!

HOW TO PLANT ELEPHANT GARLIC

Separate cloves and plant their blunt ends down so that the pointed ends are facing up. Plant the cloves 4-6 inches below the soil surface and space the cloves from 8 to 10 inches apart in the row. In colder regions plant 4-6” deep and add 4-6” of mulch over the top for added protection. Five pounds of Elephant Garlic will plant approximately a 60 foot row when cloves are spaced about 8 inches apart. Garlic with smaller cloves should be planted 2-4” deep and again, in colder regions of the country, mulched for added protection from deep freezes and to prevent the garlic from heaving. The best time to plant Elephant as well as other garlic is in the fall. Fall planting can be done from the middle of September until the fifth of October in the colder areas of the country. In the southern states and localities where the climate is mild, garlic can be planted even as late as the beginning of December. In WV I usually replant in mid October.

 

Garlic does not compete will with weeds. It is very important that you keep your garlic as weed free as possible, especially in the spring as it begins to grow. After you weed in the spring, mulch with well rotted compost to reduce weeds. It will not eliminate them but will greatly reduce the number of weeds that come up for the next weeding. In spring as the garlic starts to grow pay particular attention to amount of rainfall or snow pack. If you have an unusually dry spring you will need to water the garlic. If garlic is stressed in spring as it is growing, the bulbs will be a lot smaller. If you do water discontinue irrigating in the early part of July in order to give the bulbs a chance to mature and the stalks to dry out. Also if the spring is above 85 degrees for a period or time, it can reduce the size of the garlic. Mulch to keep the soil as cool as possible. Where Elephant Garlic is spring planted there will be a certain percentage of the crop that will produce round, solid, onion like bulbs, with no clove segments. These round bulbs, when replanted, will produce normal but extra large bulbs with bulb segments the following harvest. Under these conditions it means that it takes two seasons to develop bulbs with segments.

HARVESTING ELEPHANT GARLIC

There are many prior steps one must take before the actual harvest of Elephant garlic begins. In late spring the plants will send up a center stalk that will have a bud on the end. The buds should be snipped off as soon as they are discernable, otherwise; if they are allowed to develop, they will flower and produce seeds which will result in smaller garlic bulbs. (I did miss about half this year ) Elephant Garlic, garlic for that matter, is ready to harvest when the majority of leaves and stalk becomes yellow and starts turning brown. If the soil is loose the garlic can be pulled out of the ground by the stalks. Otherwise, dig the garlic with a shovel or potato fork. Be careful, allow sufficient room between your digging implement and the bulb itself. A little practice and you will be able to dig any garlic without damaging the bulb. If your soil is wet, especially near harvest time, the stalks or leaves may not turn brown. The garlic should be dug a bit earlier or else the outer sheath often rots. Before digging the entire crop, check one or two bulbs. If there are 3-4 sheaths left on the garlic, it is time to dig. If allowed to go too long, garlic will split open in the ground. Bring all dug garlic in out of the sun. Cut off the roots and stalks immediately. If you cut the roots off soon after digging it is easier to cut them and the bulbs dry faster. Spread the garlic out in a shaded area or shed and allow to dry 2 to 3 weeks depending on the weather. You can put the harvested garlic on wire mesh racks that are at least 2-3 inches off the floor. This just allows the garlic to dry faster. Check regularly. If you intend to replant some of your garlic, sort out some of the best looking, biggest bulbs to replant for next season. Once dry, peel off the dirty outer parchment layers. Garlic is now ready to store for winter use.

HOW TO STORE ELEPHANT GARLIC BULBS

Store the bulbs in open mesh bags or shallow bins with slat bottoms or wire mesh. This enables the garlic to be exposed to a good circulation of air. The room where the garlic is stored should be cool and dry. Check the bulbs every week or ten days for any damage that may occur during storage.

I love cooking with garlic – it blends well with oregano, rosemary, or thyme essential oils for Italian dishes.   I add it with with coriander essential oil for my Indian dishes. Latino dishes I prepare have loads of garlic and cilantro or cumin essential oils! Please let me know if you want me to share some recipes!

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