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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Garden Spot: Garlic

Air Date: Week of

Tulips, crocuses and daffodils are not the only bulbs to plant in the fall. Living On Earth’s cultivated gardener Michael Weishan (WYS-hahn) talks with Steve Curwood about planting garlic. It’s beautiful in the garden, easy to grow, and its story is loaded with lore.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Halloween will be here soon, and it will be time for ghosts, goblins, and vampires, unless of course you have plenty of garlic lying around.

WEISHAN: I keep plenty in my garden, Steve.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Well, of course. That's Michael Weishan, host of Public Radio's The Cultivated Gardener. I'm visiting him in his gardens to learn about planting garlic. Michael, why grow garlic?

WEISHAN: Well, actually, that's a good question, because it's actually pretty cheap in the stores. But one of the best reasons to grow garlic is that when you grow your own, you know it's organic, and you always pay premium for organic products. The second reason is that it's an ornamental garlic. It's actually quite beautiful. The stalks rise up on these very curly, long necks with beautiful flowers. The leaves look like chives. So I actually plant it not only in the vegetable garden but in the flower garden as well. And the third reason, of course, is that it's great for you. People actually take garlic supplements now for a whole host of ailments, so if you grow your own you don't have to buy it.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) So, it's healthy. Is it one of those traditional medicinal plants? I mean, what's the history of it?

WEISHAN: Garlic has been in cultivation ever since man has been cultivating gardens. At least that's what we think. The lore goes back past the ancient Egyptians. It was fed to the slaves who actually built the Great Pyramids, to help them with strength. It was also used in the Middle Ages as an anti-plague drug. It was also fed to the Roman legionaries, supposedly to make them more courageous and fight better. Personally, I think they just frightened away everyone they breathed on. (Curwood laughs)

CURWOOD: All right, well let's plant some.



WEISHAN: Dig a hole about four inches deep. I generally make a nice, long row, because quite frankly, if you take a head of garlic and split it into individual cloves, you get quite a number, generally. You just plant them down the line in a trench about four inches deep, about four inches apart, and cover them up. We plant them now in October, because it's the perfect time into October, November, just until the ground freezes. And essentially, each clove will then, next spring, form a whole new head of garlic. And you'll harvest it in July or so, when the tops die down and all the growth is gone. And that's about it. You just dig it up, let it dry, and you have your own supply of garlic. Nothing could be easier.

CURWOOD: Okay. Now I have some garlic that I've gotten at the store. Can I plant that?

WEISHAN: You can, but you don't exactly know where that garlic has been. You want to grow something where you can verify the source, whether it's been treated organically. There is another reason why you probably don't want to grow the garlic that you find in the supermarket. Generally, that's what we call soft-neck garlic. And the neck they're referring to is the stem that rises up that holds the flowers. And it's very soft and pliable, and you can actually braid them. You've seen those ornamental braids periodically. It's great for stores, but it doesn't do particularly much for flavor. It's rather bland. The type of garlic that most people grow in their gardens is called hard-neck garlic, and that has a harder stem. The stem actually snaps (snapping sound) almost like a small twig. And it's quite hard. And the flavor of this garlic is much more intense, much more varied in flavor. You can actually grow different varieties that have a nutmeg sort of flavor, or a spicier, tangier variety. So there's a lot more interest in that hard-neck garlic.

CURWOOD: Michael, thanks for the time.

WEISHAN: It's been a pleasure, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is host of The Cultivated Gardener, heard on Public Radio. If you'd like to learn more, check out our Web page. Our address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.



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