Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a handy herb that will grow right in your own yard, taking very little space, these single buttons or cloves, make up the bulb, and are planted in the fall. By going through the winter garlic will come up the following year in the form of a bulb, with a number of cloves or buttons. When planted in the spring, they will generally be just a larger button by fall and not become a bulb. Some people will put the garlic buttons into the refrigerator (not freezer) and keep cold for a few weeks, bring them out into room temperature for several weeks, and repeat this process several times. Thus, the garlic now believes it has gone through several winters and it matures enough to develop from a clove into a bulb. Rather sneaky we would say, but if it works, fine!


Besides planting garlic in your yard you can plant around rose bushes and other aphid infested plants and the aphids will disappear. Gardeners have reported that they plant garlic between the rows of cauliflower, tomatoes, etc., and the garlic will discourage plant-destroying bugs, cut worms, etc. Here "you can have your cake and eat it too" for you can get the value of garden-assistance from this herb during the growing season, and then thin them out in the fall to use as a food and a healing herb during the winter.


In addition to growing garlic in your gardens and around your yard, garlic is known to grow in the woods and has a very acrid taste and smell, but it also has very small bulbs, which would hardly render it of practical use. Ramsons, one species of garlic is also very generally known as 'Broad-leaved Garlic' or the wild wood garlic, if it wasn’t for its evil smell would rank among the most beautiful of our British plants. Its broad leaves are very similar to those of the Lily-of-the-Valley, and its star-like flowers are a dazzling white, but its odor is too strong to admit of it being picked for its beauty, and many woods, especially in the Cotswold Hills, are spots to be avoided when it is in flower, being so closely carpeted with the plants that every step taken brings out the offensive odor.


Like the Ramsons, Crow Garlic also has very small bulbs and the labor of digging them up would be great. Widely distributed and fairly common in many districts, pastures and communicates if eaten by cows it is said to rank the taste of milk and butter.


Garlic grows wild only in Central Asia (centered in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) today. Earlier in history garlic grew wild over a much larger region and, in fact, wild garlic may have occurred in an area from China to India to Egypt to the Ukraine.  This region where garlic has grown in the wild is referred to as its "center of origin" since this is the geographic region where the crop originated and the only place where it flourished in the wild. In fact, although we sometimes hear about "wild garlic" elsewhere in the world, this is the only region where true garlic routinely grows in the wild without the assistance of human propagation. There are other plants locally referred to as "wild garlic", but these are invariably other species of the garlic genus (Allium), not garlic itself (Allium sativum). For example, Allium vineale is a wild relative of garlic that occurs in North America and is commonly called "wild garlic”.


Garlic has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. Garlic will do best in full sun but can be grown with satisfactory results in partial shade. Garlic can tolerate periods without rain, but best results come from plants that receive regular watering. Garlic is grown as an annual, started from cloves broken out of the bulb. In mild climates garlic will grow all winter; in cold climates areas, it will go dormant in the winter, and should be mulched.


Allium longicuspis is said to be the wild ancestor of garlic; and according to Vvdensky it is native to central Asia where it extends from mountainous Turkmenia North-Eastwards in the Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan regions. DeCandolle says that "The only country where garlic has been found in a wild state, with the certainty of its really being so, is the desert of the Kirghis of Sungari," in the central Asian steppes. On the other hand, he says "Garlic has long been cultivated in China under the name of suan. It is written in Chinese by a single sign, which usually indicates a long known and even a wild species. The floras of Japan do not mention, it whence I gather that the species was not wild in Eastern Siberia and Dahuria, but that the Mongols brought it into China."

The first mention of garlic in America is by Peter Martyr, who states that Cortez fed on it in Mexico. In Peru, Acosta says 'the Indians esteem garlic above all the roots of Europe.' It was cultivated by the Choctaw Indians in gardens before 1775 and is mentioned among garden esculents by American writers on gardening in 1806 and since.


Gilroy is centrally located within a short driving distance of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, the San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Best- known as the "Garlic Capital of the World," it is home of the annual Garlic Festival in July.


Besides Gilroy California being the “Garlic Capital of the World”, California’s two major commercial varieties are the California Early and the California Late. With such names, it comes as no surprise that California is the primary producer of garlic. In fact, only four other states harvest more than 100 acres of garlic: Nevada, Oregon, Washington and New York.


California Late Garlic is considered California’s most valuable commercial garlic variety. The late garlic is good storage garlic, the one you're most likely to be seeing well into winter, with a strong flavor, high solid content, and firm smooth bulbs.  


However the California Early Garlic matures about one month earlier than California Late, and has greater yield than the Late, but doesn't store as well because of its higher moisture content. 

Creole Garlic being heat tolerant is one of California's main varieties and has become the mainstay in the states warmer regions. It matures about one month earlier than California Early. This variety is rather inconsistent in its flower production. Sometimes it sends up a seed stem that grows as high as three feet and develops a glorious flower at the top. The Creole is the variety that is filled with bulbs of various sizes, all rather randomly arranged, with some cloves on the small side and ganged up in the sheathing material with one or more other cloves. 


Although the Hard-neck Garlic (Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon) is by far the choice of small-scale growers, it grows well in northern and central states. Also Soft-neck garlic (Allium sativum subsp. sativum), usually found in supermarkets, thrives in warmer climates, including the South, the Southwest, and southern California.


To sum up garlic is an adaptable species, and can be grown in most mild climate states. There are some varieties of garlic that have been selected to grow in cold climates, often with better garlic flavor than the varieties grown in mild climates.

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