One of the top five seasonings used in cooking, garlic has a cult following among the chefs around the world. The two main garlic producing countries in the world, India and China, have been using garlic for over 5,000 years and their cuisines reflect this long tradition. Garlic belongs to the Allium family that includes onion and leek.
It is a slow maturing plant and takes between 4 to 6 months from planting to harvesting. But it takes very little space and can be grown around the vegetable patch as a border.
When garlic is grown around rose plants and the cabbage family of plants, it protects them from pests.
There are two main categories of garlic, the soft neck and the hard neck. The first grows in warmer climates and each bulb has a large number of small cloves with a strong flavour.
Most of the garlic grown in the plains in India belongs to this group. The hard neck needs a colder climate, has few large cloves per bulb and is milder in flavour.
Both the categories require the climate to be cool and moist while growing and warm and dry during maturity. They can be cultivated in various types of soil, but grows well in well-drained loamy soil. While preparing the bed use plenty of organic matter and some bone and fish meal. Garlic needs the extra calcium in the soil.
Raising garlic from seeds is complicated and therefore it is usually grown from individual cloves. Buy good quality plump garlic and shortly before planting, break the bulb apart into cloves. After separating them, plant the larger cloves with the pointed end facing up in a single or double row, with 20 cm between rows, 10 cm between plants and at a depth of 5 cm.
The first shoot will appear in two weeks. While the bulb will not grow to its full size without adequate moisture, over-watering results in poor keeping quality. Two weeks before harvesting, stop watering and let the bulbs harden.
Garlic is ready for harvesting when the foliage turns yellow and starts browning. Use a flat narrow bladed shovel to loosen the ground and gently pull out the plant. Let the whole plant dry in the shade and brush the dirt off.
The medicinal quality of garlic has been known to many cultures for thousands of years. Most of the health benefits are derived from Allicin and other such sulphur compounds which endow it with a distinctive flavour.
There is evidence to suggest that these compounds are responsible for the health benefits of garlic such as relief from cold and pain, as an antioxidant, antibacterial and in strengthening the immune system.