Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Garlic Growing Guide and THE Garlicky Spinach Artichoke Dip

So many people have asked me about growing garlic.  And lately, so many people have been needlessly lamenting the fact that they haven't gotten their garlic in yet that I thought it was high time I posted the skinny on growing garlic.  Well, the good news is that it is not too late, and if your garlic is already in, you are actually a bit early.

Here's the guide.

Choosing Seed Garlic:
Do no go to the grocery store and buy garlic to plant.  All garlic sold as food has been treated so it will not sprout in your drawer and it will not sprout in your garden either.  You need to purchase actual SEED garlic, which is just garlic that hasn't been treated.  There are lots of sources, but make sure they are not purveyors of those nasty GMO seeds.  Two outfits that I can stand behind are: Fedco ( and Peaceful Vally Farm ( There are lots more if you google organic garlic seed.  There are lots of varieties.  If you want to braid your garlic, be sure to buy the loose neck varieties (or not hard neck).  I haven't bought garlic in a long time, using part of my harvest for next year's crop, but last time I did, I bought Music and Siberian as I recall.   Each clove will become a head of garlic next year.  A very general estimate is about a dozen heads in a pound and about 5 cloves to a head, so about 60 plants per pound.  This is super general because the heads could be smaller and lighter or bigger and heavier.  You can always ask the seed company for a closer estimate.

You want to plant your garlic after there has been at least one killing frost and when you don't expect there to be a prolonged warm up before the onset of winter.  That is because you don't want your garlic to sprout immediately out of the ground and then the tender leaves to get killed in a frost.  You want the garlic to grow at an incredibly slow rate from planting until spring when it can sprout without the danger of getting frozen.  I use November 10th as my guide here in New England.  But this is only a guide.  The year that it snowed before Halloween, I had to wait until after Thanksgiving before the snow had melted and I could prep the beds and it was still fine.  On the other hand, you don't want to wait so long that the ground is frozen solid and planting is a chore and a half.  Again, November 10th is usually perfect around here. 

Prep your beds well as garlic is a heavy feeder.  Add lots of compost and/or composted manure.  Turn it over and dig furrows, at least two inches deep in rows about 10 inches to a foot apart.  Separate your heads into individual bulbs and plant FLAT SIDE DOWN, POINTY PART UP every 4 to 6 inches.  If you have a small space, you can cheat both how far apart the cloves are and how far apart the rows are a little, but you will most likely be sacrificing final head size a bit.  Really push your cloves down into the bottom of the furrow (I do a pushing, slightly twisting motion to get them lodged in their place) and cover with at least two inches of dirt.  You're done.  Until spring.

Caring for the plants:
In the spring, the little cloves will miraculously sprout maybe even before the snow has fully melted.  Garlic, as I said, is a heavy feeder.  It doesn't want to compete with weeds.  If you didn't amend your soil before planting (like I told you, tsk tsk), feel free to top dress with composted manure at this point.  Keep weeded and watered and wait for those delectable scapes!!

Scapes, or what would become garlic flowers will begin to grow the beginning to middle of June.  They will grow right out of the center of the leaves and will be sturdier than the leaves and round with a pointy head at the end that would, if left (but we won't) would become the flower.  I like to wait for the scapes to get long and curly before snapping them as I use them culinarily for a wide range of recipes.  Whether you snap them young and short or long and curly, IT IS IMPERATIVE that you snap them.  If you don't the plant will put it's energy into the scape and subsequent flower, seed cycle.  If you snap them, the plant puts its energy into bulb production.  So snap them and eat them, they are delicious!  It is kind of like two crops in one!!  Hint: sautee in a little olive oil and eat them plain, or add to pesto or to sauces, soup, pasta, in quesadillas, the list is endless.

If it makes sense in your garden to taper off watering at this point, do so.  If you are watering with a sprinkler and it doesn't make sense, don't worry about it.  That's the case in my garden and I always get big delicious heads, but I've read in more than one place that after you harvest scapes you should taper off watering.

After you've harvested your scapes, the leaves will start to die back.  You want to wait until about a third of the leaves have died back to harvest, generally about three weeks.  But feel free to pull a few, especially on the edge of your bed to check.  The heads should be tight and getting big.  If you pull one and the cloves are starting to pull apart from the heads, HARVEST IMMEDIATELY!!!  I generally harvest right after the 4th of July.  And I spot check the week prior.  The latest I've harvested is probably July 15, the earliest probably the 1st, so the window is pretty short. 

After you have harvested, there are a number of ways you can dry them.  The important thing is that you cut off the roots.  Use a sharp knife and cut just below the roots to make a clean smooth surface at the top of the head.  Then you can braid them, or hang them of lay them out on a rack.  I cut off the leaves as well, so I have a finished head of garlic.  Then I give it a one second rinse to get the bulk of the dirt off and then I lay the garlic on a screen propped up on bricks on a table so there is airflow above and below the garlic.  I put an oscillating fan on the garlic for a full month before I remove the garlic to mesh bags.  This may be overkill, but I dry in my barn which is moist and I've had mold problems in the past, so better safe than sorry.  Once dried, I separate my garlic by size, the biggest ones I reserve for next year's seed.  Since I grow enough the whole year, I check my garlic every few weeks to make sure it is neither sprouting nor molding.  Molding is caused by heads that were not dried sufficiently.  Sprouting just happens eventually.  If I see any beginning to sprout, I inspect all of them carefully and any that are sprouting go in the fridge.  This will mellow the flavor :( but will slow down or stop the sprouting.  :)

There you have it!!

Here is the recipe for the most amazing spinach artichoke dip ever!


2 or 3 cloves garlic
Two cups spinach leaves
Two can artichoke hearts or bottoms
One package cream cheese
1/3 cup romano cheese (or to taste)

In a food processor, whir up the garlic, add the spinach, process until it there is nothing left to process, add the artichokes, puree, add cream cheese and process until the cream cheese is totally incorporated, add cheese and again, process until fully incorporated.  Smoosh down any stuff that has crept up the sides and process once more for about 30 seconds for good measure.  Put dip into an oven safe bowl.  I like to make mine a day in advance and let the flavors meld in the fridge, but you can go right from processor to oven as well.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake dip for about 40 minutes or until bubbly.  I like to serve with pita chips while it is still warm.