CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's that time for goblins and ghouls, witches and warlocks, and zombies and vampires to invade our streets and homes. If you have watched horror movies, you know that you'll need to stock up on wooden stakes, holy water, silver bullets and garlic to protect yourself from harm.
But when you pick up that garlic, I would suggest that you plant it instead of using it to repel vampires. After all, despite what the big box stores might tell you, it is the right time of year to plant garlic!
The lore of garlic to ward off evil spirits is ancient. Some think the legend is rooted in the use of garlic to repel all kinds of foul things, from rabid animals to mosquitoes. These days, garlic is praised more for its culinary uses and possible curative effects against infections and even cholesterol. The main benefit to eating garlic, however, is the taste, especially if the garlic is homegrown. So, let's talk a bit about growing garlic, what garlic to grow, and how garlic can be used.
Picking the right type
When I talk about growing garlic, I usually get the question about growing the garlic you buy in the grocery store. My answer is generally a "yes, of course, but ..." type of answer. Garlic found in the produce section doesn't taste nearly as good as garlic available elsewhere. Just like the cardboard tomatoes you buy in winter, grocery-store garlic is selected for its storage potential rather than flavor.
Grocery-store garlic is a soft-neck variety, which is good for braiding and hanging on the kitchen wall, but it has a hot, pungent flavor that is less complex than other garlics. The garlics that grow best in moderate and cooler climates are the hard-neck varieties. Unfortunately, this often means you have to order garlic from a catalog retailer to get a good start (exchanging with friends and fellow gardeners is a good way to grow a collection too). Some catalogs I like for garlic are Territorial Seed, Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Burpee's.
There are several different types of garlic that originate in different geographic areas. Each has its own specific growing habits and flavor profiles. Some common types you'll find in area gardens are:
Porcelain -- prized for very large bulbs with a mild, yet well-developed garlic flavor.
Rocambole -- the most complex of all garlic flavors, this garlic loves cold weather.
Purple Stripe -- has a very strong garlic flavor and can be harvested earlier than other garlics.