By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Garlic lovers who’ve spent a fewmonths without fresh garlic cloves are prime candidates for growing Early Red Italian,which is ready for harvest before many other types. What is Early Red Italiangarlic, you may ask? It is a mild, artichoke garlic with a minor bite. EarlyRed Italian garlic info calls it “an excellent garlic ready for harvest weeksbefore some other varieties” and says “it is a prolific grower” with large,colorful bulbs.
Native to southern Italy, heads arelarge and, as mentioned, the Early Red Italian garlic plant is one of theearliest types ready for a late spring harvest. While this garlicvariety will grow in less than ideal conditions, bulbs and taste areimproved by growing in a sunny spot in loose, composted soil.
Plantgarlic cloves with the roots downward and cover with acouple inches (5 cm.) of rich topsoil. Space the cloves approximately 18 inches(46 cm.) apart. Plant into soil that is loose and well draining so the roots ofEarly Red Italian have plenty of room to develop and grow the large bulbs. Infosays one pound of this garlic typically has 50 to 90 bulbs.
Water regularly when there is nonatural moisture. Keep the weeds cleared from the garlic patch, as garlic doesnot like competition for nutrients. A layer of organic mulch assists with bothholding moisture and keeping weeds down. Clip off any blooms that appear.
Planting times for garlic varysomewhat by location. Most plant in mid-autumn if there will be a winterfreeze. More northern areas may wait to plant in early spring. Those withoutfreezing winters often plant in winter and harvest in fall.
Purchase seed garlic from areputable source, locally or online. Keep in mind, when you’re buying yourfirst seed garlic that it will produce bulbs for eating and reseeding for yearsto come, so don’t be intimidated by the price. You haven’t truly tasted garlicuntil you eat that you’ve grown.
Early Red Italian garlic storeswell and lasts several months if properly stored. Use this garlic in sauces andpesto or for raw eating. You can store the entire plant or store bulbs in adark, dry place where air circulates, in a mesh or paper bag.
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Garlic can be planted in autumn, for harvesting in late spring-summer.
When you are planting your garlic, break apart the bulb into individual cloves and plant pointy end up, approximately 7cm apart. Cover with approximately 2-7cm of soil (deeper in warmer climates, shallower in cooler climates, or as per packet recommendations). Garlic requires well drained, enriched (well rotted animal manure/compost) soil in full sun. Additional lime is also beneficial in soils with a neutral to low pH.
The biggest bulbs are formed by planting early autumn, however planting too early will result in bulbs rotting. You can plant garlic when cloves begin to show shoot development in the centre of the clove. You will need to slice open a clove to observe this development.
Garlic needs the transition between short days lengths (winter) to long days lengths (summer) in order to form bulbs, which is why garlic grown in sub-tropical areas often produces lovely green tops, but small bulbs.
Water your garlic regularly during the growing season especially in spring. You can also fertilise it with well a balanced fertiliser. When the foliage begins to brown off, cut back on the water and fertiliser. This usually happens from November onwards.
Harvest garlic when there are 4-5 green leaves left, these leaves become the protective 'skins' needed for good storage. Another 'harvest time' sign is when stems become soft and wilted at the base. Hang harvested garlic in a dry position with good ventilation to allow bulbs to ‘harden’ and leaves to dry. Garlic should keep in a dark, dry place for about 6 months.
To extend garlic availability it is good to plant both an early (Italian Red) and late (Silver Skin) variety. Russian Garlic also has the ability to store for up to 9 months. In addition to garlic bulbs you can also grow garlic shoots. Shoots are best grown by using the smallest unwanted cloves planted in a separate bed that can be continually harvested.