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Garlic has a storied history

Garlic has long been used as a culinary and medicinal herb. Greek and Roman soldiers ate garlic before battle for strength, stamina and courage.

Garlic has also been used to ward off evil spirits, witches, werewolves and vampires.

It is a powerful antibiotic and has been used to treat the common cold, acne and high cholesterol. In the garden, garlic spray is used to repel deer, rabbits and other vertebrates that feed on plant material.

Garlic is commercially produced in California. Garlic varieties are placed into two categories: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties produce a flowering scape while softneck varieties do not.

Softneck varieties are for mild climates and should be avoided in Minnesota. Hardneck varieties have fewer cloves then softnecks. Common hardneck varieties include Rocambole, Purple strain, and Porcelain.

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Related to onions, garlic forms a bulb which separates into cloves. These cloves are used to propagate garlic.

Seed garlic can be purchased at a local garden center, not at a local grocery store. The garlic at the grocery store is primarily softneck varieties.

The best shoot and bulb formation occurs with a cold treatment, therefore, fall is the best time to plant garlic. Plant the cloves about one to two weeks after the first killing frost. Roots will emerge from the clove before the ground freezes and shoots will emerge from the soil the following spring.

Garlic requires a well-drained, moisture-holding soil high in organic matter. Adding three to four inches of compost or other organic matter is recommended for all garden preparations. The optimum soil pH is 6.0 to 7.0. Garlic has a moderate to high demand for nitrogen which should be incorporated prior to planting.

Separate individual cloves and plant 6 inches apart within and between rows with the pointed side up. The base of the clove should be two to three inches from the soil surface.

Place chicken wire over the area to prevent digging by pesky vertebrates. Cover the chicken wire with a layer of mulch to prevent fluctuating temperatures and to help control weeds. The mulch can be removed in the spring after the threat of a hard freeze has passed.

Fall-planted garlic should be ready for harvest in July when the lower leaves turn brown.

So whether used as a culinary herb or to ward off evil spirits, home-grown garlic has the best flavor.

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