The idea that garlic can keep vampires away, especially when worn as a necklace is part of the folklore of this interesting vegetable. Garlic has been cultivated for over 5,000 years and was mentioned in the bible in Numbers 11:4 as one of the foods the fleeing Israelites missed. The Roman soldiers supposedly ate garlic to give them courage and ancient travelers believed that strong garlic on one’s breath would keep them safe from evil. During WWI the Red Army used fresh garlic to stop the spread of gangrene as it has properties that will kill bacteria; often today you’ll still hear it called Russian penicillin. It does have beneficial medicinal qualities for use as an anti-coagulant when taken raw, reducing blood pressure, and when cut up cloves are rubbed on mosquito bites the swelling goes down. As a matter of fact, this wonder vegetable is such an immune system booster it should be part of our diet every day in one form or another. Next to salt, garlic is the most widely used flavouring for food. Garlic contains alliin and the enzyme allinase which together create allicin when a clove is crushed, giving you an enhanced flavour.
In early summer the scapes or curly tops produced from the bulbs can be eaten as they are full of garlic oil. Between mid July and August when the bulbs themselves are harvested various communities celebrate with a Garlic Festival where tantalizing aromas permeate the air from roasted garlic on toast to pickled garlic buds and untold ways to serve and eat it.
Garlic is not produced from seed for the flowers are sterile so a method of cloning is used for it to multiply. Cloves from bulbs are planted in autumn in a trench 10 – 12 cm deep at 15 cm intervals with the pointed end up. A sprinkling of bone and blood meal over them, the trench is then filled in with about 10 cm of soil over the garlic. Mulch the garlic well to a depth of 15 cm with shredded leaves or clean straw to prevent damage from frost heaving. The roots will begin to develop before the freezing temperatures set in and in the spring when the sun starts to heat up the garden, they will begin growing. From April to June give the garlic about 2.5 cm of water a week and after that stop so as to try and let the bulbs dry out.
Garlic is one of the few plants that cannot by hybridized since there is no pollination of the flowers. Different varieties have evolved however from natural mutations and there are hundreds of varieties known as a strain, which denotes a particular group of garlic.
A few very early maturing are Rocambole, Porcelains, Cuban Purple and Spanish Morado. Some of the later stains to harvest are Glenglyle (Russian Red), Tear Drop, Elephant and Wild Niagara.
Sometimes gardeners find they have no success in growing garlic but the experts say to give it three years before you throw in the towel. The main reason people grow their own is for the taste, heat and the aroma; unfortunately you cannot grow the garlic purchased at grocery stores because it is treated for mass production and long term storage.