Garlic -- or Allium sativum -- is not only one of the easiest plants to grow in a home vegetable garden; it's a nutritious and tasty food source used in many recipes worldwide from Mediterranean to Asian cooking. A member of the onion family, garlic has a strong scent both in the garden and when cut for food preparation. Storing the fresh bulbs can be done by several methods.
Garlic planting is typically done in the autumn or very early spring, depending on the USDA climate zone. The plants need well-draining, nitrogen rich soils that contain high amounts of organic matter. "Seeds," or individual cloves, are planted, mulched, exposed to a cold season and eventually mature to become a full bulb. Harvesting takes place once the plants have fully matured, which can be anytime from summer into autumn. Knowing how the plants are going to be used or stored often dictates how they are best harvested.
Each garlic plant is dug up, then dirt clumps are removed and the long, green leaves are left intact. The roots may be trimmed to about an inch from the bottom of the bulb. The bulbs may be rinsed in cool water or dried without washing. The leaves are braided together snugly while the plants are still fresh and green. Braiding the leaves of six to 12 bulbs is not difficult. Some growers prefer a very fancy form of braid, while others may simply twist the leaves together so the clumps or clusters of garlic bulbs hang more loosely. Either way, the groups are then hung to dry.
While some growers feel that it's best to keep the entire root and all leaves intact through the drying process, others will cut the roots to about 1/4-inch from the bottom of the bulb and trim the leaves to within about 1/2-inch from the top of the bulb before drying. The bulbs (now with no leaves or roots remaining) are hung in loose-mesh bags and allowed to dry. Braided bulbs can also be trimmed down once fully dry and sorted into various sizes, then placed in the mesh bags for storage until needed.
One method for storing garlic can be seen in modern grocery stores and you can mimic this at home. Peel apart each bulb of garlic, then peel the individual cloves. Use caution so that you don't accidentally cut into or nick the clove itself. Store the peeled garlic cloves in air-tight jars and keep them in your refrigerator. You may also want to use peeled garlic--with or without additional herbs--to make vinegars as an optional form of storage.
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