It’s no trick: Halloween in the South means it’s time to plant garlic.
If there’s such a thing as a money plant, the humble garlic could be it. Think about it: Grocery-store garlic runs about 50 cents a head, and prime farmers’ market organic garlic more. But if you plant two heads of garlic, with almost no effort you’ll wind up with 16 to 20 new heads of garlic, each with eight to 10 cloves.
And garlic keeps away the vampires of the garden world, according to Susan Cannella, who with business partner Helen Denny owns Gardening Gals, a Charlotte business that installs raised beds, rain barrels and composting units. “It wards off other pests and rodents so it’s a nice companion plant,” Cannella said.
Jenifer Mullis is a garlic expert, with nearly 100 lbs. of the stuff ready now for planting at Laughing Owl Farm, which she and her husband, Dean, operate in Stanly County.
“It’s fairly care-free as long as you get a good start in the fall and keep it pretty weed-free,” Mullis said Saturday while working at the Matthews Farmers’ Market. Mullis favors inchelium red garlic, which won a 1990 Rodale taste test and which was originally discovered on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state.
One way to cut down on weeding is to plant the garlic in a raised bed, Cannella said. “(And) if your soil is particularly poor, a raised bed is perfect. It’s also good for people who don’t want to stoop down too low.” And garlic brings home the truth that in the Carolinas Piedmont, “you can basically grow something almost every day of the year and harvest something almost every day of the year,” she added.
One thing you don’t want to do: Plant grocery-store garlic. “About 98 percent of all garlic in grocery stores comes from China,” said David Blackley, owner of Renfrow Hardware in Matthews. “And it’s sprayed to keep it from sprouting.”
Once you get a few heads of untreated garlic, here’s what to do: Separate the cloves and push each clove about three inches into the prepared soil, pointed-end up. Plant cloves about six to eight inches apart. Give it some moisture, but remember that garlic doesn’t like to be overwatered or overfertilized.
Pull the garlic in late spring or early summer when the leaves turn brown. Brush off the dirt and let it air-dry. Soft-neck varieties can be braided and hung, or just store the cured garlic in a net bag the way you do onions.
Local garlic for planting:
Garlic is a bit provincial, doing better if it’s had time to adapt to local soil conditions. It’s one of the gardening crops best bought locally for planting. You can buy planting garlic from many growers at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl farm will bring it for customers who contact him ahead of time at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another source is Renfrow Hardware in Matthews.