It is prime garlic-planting time in Western North Carolina, from now through the middle of November.
The traditional recommendation is to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year, on the winter solstice (Dec. 21) and to harvest on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice (June 21).
Though a winter-solstice planting date might prove sage advice in some locations, here in Western North Carolina, the solstice is not a particularly useful marker, according to Cathy Arps, who with her husband, Ron, owns and operates Vegenui Garden near Sylva.
The Arps are knowledgeable and experienced local growers. They are my favorite go-to advisers when, as frequently happens, I find myself flummoxed in the garden. This time, I was trying to find out why my garlic won’t keep in storage.
“Plant garlic earlier, or you could find yourself out there in rainy, cold weather planting it,” Cathy told me, and harvest at the end of June, she added, definitely no later than July 4. Otherwise, as I can personally attest, garlic won’t cure properly.
Garlic comes in two main types: hardneck, which produces edible flower stalks in the spring called “scapes,” and softneck, the better of the two for storage, though harder to peel. There’s also elephant garlic, technically a leek. It produces bulbs both larger and milder tasting than regular garlic.
Growing garlic well requires loose, nutrient-rich soil. Place the cloves about 2-6 inches apart; plant only medium- to large-size ones and use smaller cloves for cooking. Large cloves produce large cloves, and the inverse is equally true. Do not remove the paper-like shell. Place cloves tip upward, pushed 2-3 inches into soil. Mulch the soil with straw and don’t fret when your garlic sprouts during warm spells this winter – it will recover, I promise, though those green shoots certainly look tender and exposed on frigid days.
Locally grown garlic bulbs are available on Saturday mornings at the Jackson County Farmers Market in Sylva’s Bridge Park. The Arps have five or six varieties available, both hardneck and softneck, and there might be other vendors also selling them, though I didn’t spy anybody this past weekend. Garlic adjusts to local conditions, so I highly recommend buying bulbs from local, or at the very least, regional growers.
And this Saturday, if you feel like making the drive, Sow True Seed in Asheville is holding its fourth annual Garlic Fest from noon until 6 p.m. at 243 Haywood St., featuring all-things garlic, including ice cream with garlic sprinkles, garlic fudge, garlic cookies and honey-fermented garlic. I’ve never been, so I can’t give a thumbs up or thumbs down, though it looks interesting to me, serious fan that I am of cooking with garlic. You can learn more at wncgarlicfest.com.
Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.