This Gardener’s Favorite Thing to Plant in Fall Isn’t Flower Bulbs or Salad Greens
It is, however, an essential cooking ingredient.
Updated Oct 16, 2021 9:14 AM
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At Kyle Hagerty’s home in Sacramento, California, where summer temps famously climb to a scorching 105 degrees in a heat wave, fall can’t come soon enough. Late September kicks off the edible gardener and firefighter’s favorite time of year for tending to his garden, when common stressors such as heat, pests, and disease tend to ebb. But there’s another reason that Hagerty anticipates the chillier months: His favorite thing to plant isn’t flower bulbs or salad greens, it’s garlic.
“To me, garlic is a must for any gardener,” says Hagerty. “It’s extremely easy to grow, whether it’s your first time gardening or you’re an experienced gardener.” Since the allium requires minimal space, he suggests planting cloves just for looks, too. “Basically anywhere there’s full sun to part shade with loose, well-drained soil,” he explains. To top it off, assuming there’s regular rainfall, garlic needs little attention to flourish.
You can plant garlic as late as December, depending on your garden zone, but typically you want your bulbs in the ground a minimum of three weeks before the first frost. The next thing to know about getting your homegrown garlic bounty under way: You can’t plant any old garlic clove.
Know Your Cloves
While a garlic seed is essentially a garlic clove, the treated kind from the grocery store is unlikely to yield a crop. To grow it at home, you’ll need to purchase certified garlic seeds from a garden shop. “My favorite variety is Spanish Roja, a hardneck garlic,” notes Hagerty (supermarket garlic is typically softneck).
Prep Before You Plant
The day prior to planting his garlic, Hagerty breaks up the bulbs, leaving the husk or sheath as intact as possible. He then infuses nutrients into the cloves by soaking them up to 12 hours in liquid kelp.
Set It and Forget It
Hagerty likes to plant cloves pointed-side-up, about 6 inches apart, and cover them in 3 inches of mulch. For cooler climates apt to heavy frost, he recommends up to 6 inches of mulch. The nutritious material also helps tamp down weeds. “Garlic doesn’t like weed pressure,” he explains. Aside from plucking away dandelions and the like, however, garlic requires minimal tending from then on. “I’ll water once a week until the rainy season begins, and as long as we don’t have any long dry spells, I won’t water until spring when the rainy season ends,” he adds.
Gather, Cook, Stash
When their long leaves begin to fade to yellow and start to droop, the garlic is signaling that it’s ready for harvesting. Now what to do with all that garlic? “I add it to a lot of my canning recipes when preserving my fall harvests,” says Hagerty. “A few favorites are pesto, salsa, pickles, and tomato sauce.” Another option: Freeze it. Mince the garlic and put individual serving sizes in sealed bags or mix it with olive oil or melted butter, then pour into ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can remove the cubes and place them in a freezer bag.
But what Hagerty especially likes about garlic is that it doesn’t have to be processed at all. “I usually braid about two dozen cloves together,” he says, noting that a paper bag works equally well. Just store it in a cool, dry place such as a dark closet or basement for up to six months and grab a head when you need it.
While a pound of seed garlic might cost up to $20, it can ultimately yield up to 50 cloves, or about 10 pounds, of garlic. So Hagerty stashes the biggest bulbs from his spring harvest to plant the following season. The allium that keeps on giving.