Most epicureans use garlic on an almost daily basis to enhance the flavor of our culinary creations. Another plant that can be used to impart a similar, though lighter, flavor of garlic is the elephant garlic. How do you grow elephant garlic and what are some of elephant garlic uses? Read on to learn more.
Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) looks like a giant garlic clove but in fact, is not a true garlic but more closely related to a leek. It is a hardy bulb with large blue-green leaves. This perennial herb boasts an outsized pink or purple flower stalk that appears in the spring or summer. Under the ground, a large bulb consisting of five to six large cloves surrounded by smaller bulblets grows. This allium plant attains a height of about 3 feet (1 m.) from bulb to the tip of the strap-like leaves and originates in Asia.
This herb is easy to grow and once established, requires little maintenance. Purchase large seed cloves from a supplier or try setting those found at the grocers. Elephant garlic bought at the grocers may not sprout, however, as they are often sprayed with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting. Look for heads that are firm with a dry, papery covering.
With elephant garlic planting, most any soil will do, but for the largest bulbs begin with a well-draining soil medium. Dig down a foot (0.5 m.) into the soil and amend with a 1.5 gallon (3.5 L.) bucket of sand, granite dust, humus/peat moss mix per 2’x 2′ (0.5-0.5 m.) to 3’x 3′ (1-1 m.) section and mix in well. Top dress with some well-aged manure and mulch around the plants with chopped leaves and/or sawdust to keep weeds at bay and also to nourish as the amendments decompose or break down.
Elephant garlic prefers full sun and can be grown in temperate regions all the way into tropical zones. In cooler climates, plant in the fall or spring while in warmer regions the herb can be planted in spring, fall, or winter.
Break up the bulb into cloves for propagation. Some cloves are much smaller and are called corms, which grow on the outside of the bulb. If you plant these corms, they will produce a non-blooming plant in the first year with a solid bulb or single large clove. In the second year, the clove will begin to separate into multiple cloves, so don’t ignore the corms. It may take two years, but eventually you will get a good head of elephant garlic.
Once planted, elephant garlic care is pretty simple. The plant does not have to be divided or harvested each year, but rather can be left alone where it will spread into a clump of multiple flowering heads. These clumps can be left as ornamentals and as deterrents to pests such as aphids, but will eventually become over crowded, resulting in stunted growth.
Water the elephant garlic when first planted and regularly in the spring with 1 inch (2.5 cm.) of water per week. Water the plants in the morning so the soil dries by nightfall to discourage diseases. Stop watering when the garlic’s leaves start drying out, which is an indication it’s harvest time.
Elephant garlic should be ready to pick when the leaves are bent over and dying back — about 90 days after planting. When half of the leaves have died back, loosen the soil around the bulb with a trowel. You can also top off the immature plant tops (scapes) when they are tender prior to blooming. This will direct more of the plant’s energy into creating large bulbs.
Scapes can be pickled, fermented, stir fried, etc. and even frozen in a resealable bag, raw, for up to a year. The bulb itself can be used just as regular garlic, albeit with a milder flavor. The entire bulb can be roasted whole and used as a spread on bread. It can be sautéed, sliced, eaten raw, or minced.
Drying the bulb out in a cool, dry basement for a few months will extend the life of the garlic and induce a fuller flavor. Hang the bulbs to dry and store for up to 10 months.
Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is actually a leek, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Producing a fist-size bulb, this mild-flavored member of the onion family is well suited to Sunset's Climate Zones A1 to A3, 1 to 45, and H1 and H2. Although elephant garlic is about twice the size of regular garlic, it's grown in a similar manner, spaced farther apart. Elephant garlic can be planted at the end of fall, in winter or in early spring. In areas where winters are mild, it's ideally started in fall.
Till the soil in a sunny area of the garden to a depth of about 12 inches. Break up any clumps and remove weeds and rocks. Amend the soil to reach a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, which is ideal for growing elephant garlic. Incorporate a 2-inch layer of compost into the soil and work in a 10-10-10 fertilizer according to package instructions.
Plant the cloves 4 to 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart. Space the rows about 18 inches apart. Place the cloves in the ground with the pointed side up.
Spread a 4-inch layer of seed-free straw over the soil within five weeks after planting to help suppress weeds. Alternatively, remove the weeds manually.
Saturate the soil with water to a depth of about 1 inch once a week during the growing season. Adjust your watering frequency during rainfall and water more often if the soil is sandy. To prevent stained bulbs and diseases, stop watering the elephant garlic two weeks before harvest.
Side-dress the elephant garlic with chicken manure compost in late winter, and spray the leaves with a high-nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. Stop feeding the fertilizer when leaf growth slows down and bulb growth picks up.
Kimberly Caines is a well traveled model, writer and licensed physical fitness trainer who was first published in 1997. Her work has appeared in the Dutch newspaper "De Overschiese Krant" and on various websites. Caines holds a degree in journalism from Mercurius College in Holland and is writing her first novel.
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By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University
With Halloween just around the corner, children of all ages are beginning to conjure images of ghouls and goblins. As a horticulturist, I naturally think of plants associated with the upcoming holiday. Pumpkins immediately come to mind. Garlic is another. Legend says that garlic helps keep the vampires away -- which is always a good reason to have plenty of garlic around at Halloween. Besides fending off vampires, there are other good reasons to have garlic in the house. Garlic is great in sauces, stews, dressings, spreads, soups and other dishes. It is also good for you.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is relatively easy to grow in the home garden. It is a member of the onion family along with leeks, chives and shallots. Each garlic bulb contains a dozen or more smaller bulbs, called cloves. The cloves are enclosed by a white or purplish, dry, parchment-like skin.
There are generally two types of garlic grown in home gardens: hardneck and softneck types. Hardneck types usually produce a flower stalk and softneck types do not. The flowers on hardneck types sometimes abort and produce small bulbs (called bulbils) instead. These are called “topsetting” garlic varieties. Softneck types produce pliable stems (or necks) that can be braided after harvest, hence the name softneck. The foliage of hardneck types are generally too stiff to be braided. The garlic sold at grocery stores or supermarkets are primarily softneck types that are commonly grown in California or overseas.
In Iowa, it is usually easiest to grow the hardneck types. They tolerate our cooler weather better than some softneck types. Within the hardneck type of garlic there are many options including: rocambole, purple stripe, glazed purple stripe, marbled purple stripe, porcelain and Asiatic varieties. These are available through mail-order companies or Internet sites, and some local garden centers. Don’t purchase bulbs from the grocery store for planting outdoors. Bulbs sold in grocery stores may have been sprayed to prevent sprouting -- which allows them to keep longer indoors, but limits the number of cloves that will emerge after planting.
Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is not a true garlic. It is actually more closely related to leeks than garlic. Elephant garlic differs from true garlic in bulb size and flavor. Elephant garlic has a milder flavor and may be 3 to 4 times the size of true garlic.
Believe it or not, fall is the best time to plant garlic In Iowa. All types of garlic prefer sunny sites with fertile, well-drained soils. Soils enriched with plenty of organic matter are preferred. Heavy clay soils often produce misshapened bulbs.
Prior to planting, gently break apart the garlic cloves. The largest, often outer, cloves are the most productive. Instead of planting the smallest cloves, store them in the refrigerator for use in cooking. Plant the cloves one inch deep with the pointed side up. Place cloves three to five inches apart in rows. Rows should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. After planting, place several inches of straw on top of the rows to help insulate and protect the cloves over the winter. Promptly remove the straw in early spring.
Garlic is considered a “heavy feeder”. To maximize crop yields, apply and incorporate one pound of a complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) per 100 square feet of garden area prior to planting. Next spring, apply one additional pound of the all-purpose garden fertilizer per 100-foot row about three to four weeks after the shoots emerge. Lightly sprinkle the fertilizer in a band next to the plants.
Garlic requires one inch of water per week in spring. Irrigate weekly during dry weather. Since garlic is a poor competitor with weeds, frequent weeding also will be needed during the growing season.
Harvest garlic when the foliage starts to turn brown. In Iowa, garlic is usually ready to harvest in August. Carefully dig up the bulbs and allow them to dry for several days in a warm, dark, well-ventilated location. When the bulbs are dry, you can remove dry foliage, roots and any remaining soil. For best keeping quality, bulbs should be stored at 32-40 F and 60-70 percent relative humidity. Your refrigerator is an ideal place to store garlic. Properly cured and stored garlic should keep for six months or more.
A successful gardening year should reward you with plenty of garlic to use in soups, stews and other dishes. There should also be enough to scare away those pesky, blood-sucking vampires on Halloween.
Caring for garlic is simple. You need to follow a few steps, and your garlic should thrive. Here’s what you need to do:
If you live in a northern climate and must mulch your garlic bulbs over the winter, remove the mulch when you know any potential for frost has passed.
It’s common to see garlic bulbs ‘bloom’ in the spring. They develop flowers at the tops of the stems. If you see this, cut the flowers.
The more energy the bulbs put into the flowers, the less energy and nutrients are going to the bulbs. This leads to smaller garlic bulbs.
Weeds aren’t usually an issue in the early part of spring. As the days pass, you might find some weeds popping up between your garlic bulbs.
When this occurs, I run my fingers between the bulbs gently pulling at the weeds. I don’t want to pull too hard because I don’t want to disturb the bulbs.
I go over my garlic bed once a week gently pulling the weeds loose to keep nutrients going to the garlic and not the weeds.
As the season progresses, the garlic stems will get larger and begin to smother out the weeds. I usually don’t have to weed as much when this happens.
Garlic loves nitrogen, as do many plants. You need to keep an eye on the nitrogen levels in your soil. The best way to do this is to fertilize every couple of months.
If you begin to see the garlic stems turning yellow, you’ll know you have a nitrogen deficiency. Fertilize at the first sign of this and watch for improvement.
Garlic can be watered deeply one time per week to ensure it gets about 1/2 inch to an inch of water per week until May and June roll around.
When May and June hit, your garlic will begin to take off. This is when the bulbs of your garlic will grow larger.
This requires a great deal of water. During these months, you should water the garlic bulbs approximately three times per week, giving at least an inch of water total.
Garlic doesn’t need to be pruned. If you choose to grow a hard neck variety, you can use the stems for meals. You can trim the tips of the garlic and sauté them or use them as a garnish.