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Garlic, the Spice of Life

Savoring Apples

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Garlic, the Spice of Life

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Garlic, like salt, is one of those basic elements that have been around for thousands of years.  Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, permeates almost every culture from Asia to Europe, Ancient Egypt to modern America and is used as both a culinary and a medicinal.  And while its garlicky cousin Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramps) can be found throughout our local forests in the springtime, growing your own garlic is not a difficult task. 

If you are like me, the hardest part will be deciding which types of garlic to grow.  But don’t take too long deliberating because, like most bulbs, now is the best time to plant garlic. 

Here are some tips, gleaned from the pages of Fine Gardening, Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life magazines, to help you get started.  The Michigan State University Extension website also has a terrific bulletin that you can download called “Producing Garlic in Michigan” that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about growing garlic in our region.  The link for it is: .

Types of garlic

There are literally hundreds of named varieties of garlic.  Essentially, though, these different varieties can be grouped into two main subspecies, hardneck and softneck.

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) – In general terms, hardneck garlics tend to be more flavorful and grow better in areas with colder winters.  They are characterized by hard woody central stalks and a long flower-like stalk called a scape.  Hardnecks usually have four to twelve cloves in each bulb.  Popular subtypes include porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole varieties. 

Softneck garlic (A. sativum var. sativum) – Softneck types grow best where winters are mild, though some tolerate cold up to our Zone 5.  As its name implies, this garlic has a softer stem which makes it great for braiding.  Because it lacks the flowering scape of hardneck garlic, it tends to produce many more cloves—sometimes as high as thirty or more per bulb.  It comprises most of the garlic you see in major supermarkets.  Subtypes include Creole, artichoke and many Asian varieties. 


When to plant – Garlic should be planted four to six weeks before the ground freezes.  In our area that usually means late September to early November.  Spring planting can also be done but it will result in reduced yields.

Where to plant – Garlic prefers to be in a sunny location in a well-drained soil such as sandy loam.  Clay soils are also acceptable if they can be loosened enough to allow for planting and bulb growth.  Soils high in sand will also work if adequate water for irrigation is available.  Garlic can also adapt to some shade, but it will affect the size of the bulbs.  To help avoid disease, do not plant garlic in the same location two years in a row.

How to plant – After loosening the soil and adding any needed amendments, create several shallow furrows about six inches apart.  Separated cloves should be planted pointed side up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart in these furrows.  After all the cloves are in the ground, smooth the soil surface to fill in the holes, and water well.

Caring for the plants – Garlic doesn’t need loads of water, but it doesn’t like to dry out either. One to two inches of water a week is adequate.  After the initial planting, water regularly until the ground freezes to help the roots develop.  If the soil feels dry an inch below the surface, it is time to water.  Follow the same pattern in the spring until about mid-summer.  Stop watering about two weeks prior to harvesting.

Scape removal — If you are growing hardneck garlic, you will have to tend to the scapes or garlic “flower” that emerges from the center of the plant in mid-June.  These “flowers” are actually bulbils, which are clones of the parent plant.  Because producing scapes and bulbils takes energy away from the growing garlic bulb and can reduce its size by up to 30 percent, it is important that they be removed in a timely manner.  Scapes start out straight, curl as they elongate and straighten out again as they mature.  They can be cut from the plant any time after they emerge but before they straighten out again.  If removed at this point, they are still succulent and can be used fresh or in cooking.


Bulb harvest usually takes place in July when 30 to 50 percent of the plant’s leaves have died back.  To harvest, carefully drive a garden fork or shovel under the bulbs to help loosen them from the ground.  Then, gently pull them out and shake off any excess soil. 

You can start using this garlic immediately.  However, if you plan on storing your garlic, it needs to be cured first.  To do that, lay the plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun.  After a few weeks of curing, brush off any remaining soil on the bulb.  Cut the plant stalks to 12 inches above the bulb if you plan on braiding the bulbs together or to about an inch or so if you plan on storing the heads loosely.  You can also trim the roots close to the bulb if needed.  Try not to remove more wrapper layers than you have to.  These layers protect the bulb and help keep it from sprouting. 

Store the bulbs in a well-ventilated, dark spot.  And if you want, set aside the biggest bulbs for planting your next crop of garlic in the fall.

apples (large)

Savoring Apples

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Around here, apples are as much a part of autumn as the changing colors of tree leaves and the first frost on the pumpkins.  This year the autumn apple crop seems to be one the best in recent memory, both in quantity and quality.

Of course, the best way to enjoy this bounty is to head to your own apple tree or one of our area you-pick orchards and biting into an apple straight from the tree.  Nothing is better.  But after gorging oneself on numerous fresh apples and then making all apple pies and crisps your family can handle, what does one do with all the leftover fruit?

Instead of another dessert, why not try something on the savory side.  Apples can actually be a delicious part of many main dishes.  Here are three recipes, two with meat and one vegetarian, which prove the point.  Enjoy!

Roasted Cabbage and Apples with Italian Sausage

Recipe from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

Makes 4 servings


1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 medium apple, sliced

2 sprigs thyme

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1 lb fresh spicy turkey sausage

Crusty bread (for serving)


Preheat oven to 400°. Toss cabbage, onion, apple, thyme sprigs, vinegar, 1 Tbsp. oil, and 1/4 cup water in a 13×9″ baking dish; season with salt and pepper and roast, covered, until cabbage is wilted and softened, 35–45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook sausages until browned and cooked through, 10–12 minutes. Add to cabbage during last 10 minutes of cooking, tossing to coat. Serve with bread.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (2001) and the Food Network

This recipe is for serving a large group and makes 3 ½ quarts.  Cut the ingredients in half to make 4 large bowls.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons good olive oil

4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large)

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

5 pounds butternut squash (2 large)

1 1/2 pounds sweet apples, such as McIntosh (4 apples)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

2 cups good apple cider or juice


Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot uncovered over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Process the soup through a food mill fitted with a large blade, or puree it coarsely in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Pour the soup back into the pot. Add the apple cider or juice and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick. Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

Recipe from Everyday Food (Nov. 2005) and Martha Stewart Living Television

Makes 8 side servings


3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 pints Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices, each slice halved crosswise

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned, 10 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, and toss in apple. Return to oven; roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Toss vegetables with vinegar, and serve immediately.