Planting and Growing Garlic

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Garlic is a must for many cooks, and the great news is that here in Michigan, it’s actually very easy to grow garlic. It can be tucked just about anywhere in the garden, and, when you grow it yourself, you really get two crops in one. You get the bulbs, which is what most people think of when growing garlic, but you also get the scapes (which are the flower stems) which you can harvest in late spring to early summer. The scapes provide a delicate garlic flavor, and are great in many dishes that would benefit from a bit of garlicky goodness.  Let’s take a look at how to grow perfect garlic here in Michigan.

 

Garlic Types: Hardneck or Softneck?

There are two general types of garlic to choose from: hardneck and softneck. Michigan gardeners will have better success with hardneck varieties.

Hardneck Garlic Varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon)

Hardneck garlic varieties are generally hardier than softneck varieties, making them the best option for Michigan gardeners. They are also the best option if you want to enjoy garlic scapes, because hardnecks are the only type that send up a storng central stem, or scape,  in spring. Hardneck varieties tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but the individual cloves tend to be bigger.

Within the hardneck family, there are nine sub-types of garlics: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain. The Purple Stripe and Rocambole types are the hardiest, best for gardeners in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and other parts of the state with very long, cold winters. Gardeners who live in warmer zones, such as those in southern lower Michgan, can easily grow all of the hardneck types.

 

How and When to Plant Garlic in Michigan

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Here in Michigan, you’ll want to plant your garden in October and November — before the ground freezes hard, but after we start getting cooler temperatures. This will allow the bulbs to start forming roots before we get a deep freeze.

Garlic needs a site in full sun to grow well. To plant garlic, dig holes or furrows six inches apart and three inches deep in loose, well-drained soil. Place individual cloves (separate them – don’t plant entire bulbs of garlic)  in the holes, pointy end up, and cover with soil. Water them in. If you have squirrels or other animals that try digging them up, consider covering the area with chicken wire or wire mesh — the foliage and scapes can still grow  through it, but it will deter wildlife from digging them up.

Spread a six-inch deep layer of organic mulch, such as fall leaves or straw, over the planting area. Within six to eight weeks, shoots might emerge if the weather is warm enough.  This is fine — the plant will stop growing once the soil gets cold, and growth will start up again in the spring.

 

Companion Planting: What to Plant Near Garlic

Garlic is one of those crops that you can plant throughout your garden to help naturally deter pests. It actually accumulates sulfur, which is a naturally-occurring fungicide that will help protect your plants from diseases. Garlic also helps repel insects such as aphids.

Best Companion Plants for Garlic

Garlic helps the plants listed below grow better. Because garlic isn’t overly picky about where it is planted (as long as it is in full sun), it’s easy to tuck it into the garden wherever you have a spare spot. Plant garlic near: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots, and kohlrabi.

Avoid planting garlic near beans and peas, since it may stunt the growth of both plants.

 

Garlic Pests and Problems

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Garlic really isn’t bothered by many pests or disease issues. Rot can sometimes be a problem; guard against this by providing your garlic with good, well-draining soil. The most common pest is squirrels and other animals, which may dig up the bulbs. Deter them with chicken wire, as mentioned above in the “planting” section.

Another common concern gardeners have is that sometimes the garlic will send up green growth in the fall after planting, when we don’t expect to see any foliage until spring. This is nothing to worry about; growth will halt once the weather cools, and the bulb will send up new green growth in the spring.

 

Growing and Harvesting Garlic

Once you have your garlic planted, there really isn’t much to do. In spring, give the bed a topdressing of compost and/or bloodmeal, then do this again once you see the scapes. Harvest the scapes when they just  begin to curl. When the foliage has turned yellow and dead looking, it’s time to harvest your garlic. Dig it up, and let it cure in a dry place for several days.

How to Make Your Own All-Natural Solid Perfume

The most straightforward items seemed to be the solid perfumes I was buying, so I decided to try making those first. And, it is really, really easy. There are some initial costs involved in this project, but the supplies you’ll be buying will provide you with several batches of perfumes, and can be used for other items as well, such as candles and homemade lip balms.

What  You’ll Need:

  • Olive Oil or Sweet Almond Oil
  • Beeswax
  • Essential Oils
  • Bamboo skewer or chopstick for stirring
  • A clean tin can or glass measuring cup (you can still use the cup in the kitchen after you make this)
  • A small pot or pan
  • A small container to pour finished perfume into.

There are several things you could use for your perfume container: a used, clean chapstick tube, little watchmaker tins (craft stores and seed catalogs sell them). You could also use the plastic tops to milk jugs or other bottles — they won’t have covers, though, so the only downside to this option is that you wouldn’t be able to have them with you on the go.

How to Make Solid Perfume:

1. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and about 3/4 tablespoon (I’ve also seen recommendations to add equal amounts of both oil and beeswax, but my perfume seemed a little too firm to me with that ratio. Add more beeswax if yours seems like it’s not thick enough.)  of beeswax to your can or glass measuring cup.

2.  Place the can or cup into a pot that has about an inch of water in the bottom, and place it on the stove on medium-high heat.

3.  Once the water starts to boil, the wax will melt pretty quickly. Stir it every once in a while.

4. Once everything is melted, remove it from the heat and add your essential oils. Between 5 and 15 drops of your chosen oils is about right, depending on how strong you want your perfume to be. You can go with single-note scents such as lavender, patchouli, orange, sandalwood, or rose, or you can do combinations. I’ve done a patchouli perfume with just a hint of sweet orange oil, and a lavender/vanilla combo that turned out to be one of my favorites. For more ideas on scent combinations, check out this article (they have instructions for making alcohol-based perfumes, but the essential oil combos they use should give you a few ideas.)

5. Stir the essential oils in well, and carefully pour your perfume into your container of choice. Let it sit and harden for at least 30 minutes, and it’s ready to use.

Sources For Perfume Making Supplies:

Here are a few local Etsy shops for purchasing supplies for this project:

  • Natural Light Co.  — Michigan shop selling beeswax pellets, candles, and cocoa butter wafers
  • Swarm Natural  — Michigan shop that sells beeswax by the pound
  • Z Oils  — Michigan company that sells a wide range of essential oils

(Note: I don’t know any of these shop owners, and I haven’t purchased from all of them. I just thought a list like this would be useful for all of us — myself included!)

 

How to Transplant Borage

Borage is one of those plants I just NEED to have in my garden. The perfect blue-ness of its blooms (unless you get the occasional errant pink bloom, which happens sometimes, usually after very wet weather, I’ve noticed) and the cucumber-y flavor of the leaves and blossoms makes this a must-grow plant for me.

I planted borage in our side yard garden a couple of years ago because we grew tomatoes there, and borage and tomatoes are good companions. I haven’t had to plant borage seeds on purpose since. Borage self-sows pretty reliably here in our Detroit area garden, so I’m never without a few seedlings each spring. Continue reading

My Favorite Groundcover for Shade: Sweet Woodruff

When you think of groundcovers for shady areas of your garden, you probably think of either ivy or pachysandra. And both of those are nice, reliable choices. But for my money, I’ll take a fragrant carpet of sweet woodruff instead.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is an herb that spreads via runners and seed, forming a dense green carpet. It’s not overly aggressive, but will spread nicely within a few years. It does best in areas that get partial to full shade and have moderately moist soil. I have a few clumps of sweet woodruff in my front garden, on the north side of my house, beneath a large birch tree and right near the gutter downspout. They absolutely thrive in that area. So if you’re dealing with an area in which other plants just seem to rot due to moisture, try sweet woodruff there. It’s also a great plant for the front of a garden bed, where it will provide a very pretty, low-maintenance edging.

Sweet woodruff grows to about a foot tall, tops, but usually stays around six to eight inches tall. In spring (mid-May in the Detroit area) you can expect to see plenty of delicate, four-petaled blooms dotting the plants, held slightly aloft on thin stems. The foliage is arranged in whorls of six to eight leaves. While the flowers are attractive, the leaves are the real treasures on this plant. They contain the most fragrance, and provide a nice groundcover and backdrop for other plantings.

Uses for Sweet Woodruff

The leaves of sweet woodruff are at their most fragrant when they’re dried. They have a clean, hay-like, slightly sweet scent that is popular in potpourri, and has even been used in perfumes. It’s also an effective insect repellent — you can place it in furniture, closets, under rugs, or in cabinets to keep bugs away and make your home smell fresh at the same time. You can also make a tea from sweet woodruff by steeping a tablespoon of fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water. This tea is said to help soothe upset stomachs, but it’s a refreshing drink whether you have an upset stomach or not.

Perhaps the best use of all for sweet woodruff: May Wine! Joey of The Village Voice, who is one of my favorite Michigan garden bloggers, has shared a great recipe for May Wine Champagne Punch over at her blog. It sounds delicious!

Propagating Sweet Woodruff

You can propagate sweet woodruff by dividing existing plants and transplanting the divisions, or by sowing seed in early spring, after your last frost date.

I love getting more than one use out of a plant. I appreciate that sweet woodruff is not only an attractive groundcover, but fragrant and useful as well.