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Elephant garlic is a biennial plant. This means it needs two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. Suited to their name, these are comically big, with one clove around 5 cm wide. While its size does justice to the name, it is still a misnomer. Elephant garlic is not garlic but a variety of leeks.
However, it does have a mild garlic flavor. In the first year, it grows up to a single bulb. While in the second year, this bulb typically splits into multiple cloves. While it is a biennial, it will act like a perennial as new cloves grow the following year. Determining the time to harvest elephant garlic can be tricky for beginners.
Harvest garlic when most leaves have turned yellowish-brown and begin to flop over. Following the standard guidelines, elephant garlic is usually planted in early fall and ready to pick between May and July of the following year. For fall-planted garlic, this time is enough to split into cloves. However, spring-planted garlic can be harvested after 90 days but will most likely be a single bulb.
Several factors can impact the growth and harvest timing of elephant garlic. But with little attention, the process can become straightforward. Here are all your questions answered specific to elephant garlic growing climate, culture, harvest timing, and care:
How to Grow Elephant Garlic?
The growing culture plays a major role in determining the harvest time. Here are some of the factors that need to be considered while planning to grow elephant garlic:
Elephant garlic prefers partial to full sunlight. This means they should get at least six hours of direct sunlight most days. While they can grow in partial shade, the bulbs are usually smaller.
Elephant garlic grows best in rich, deeply cultivated, well-drained soil with a neutral pH of 6.0-7.0. Clay loams are a much better option than sandy soils for garlic. All you need to be sure of is adequate surface drainage. Since elephant garlic is an onion family member, it should not be grown in soil that has borne an onion family crop in the last three years.
Elephant garlic needs consistent watering when they are actively growing. There should be enough water for the soil to remain moderately moist. However, be sure that you do not overwater, as you may get the soil soggy, which can rot the bulbs.
It will help if you water it in the morning, ensuring it is dry before nighttime. You can also use the drip or trickle system, which delivers water at low pressure at the soil level.
Elephant garlic can tolerate the given temperatures considerably well but can use some help. You would need a planting site that is partially sheltered and protects the plants from harsh winds. You can also put a mulch layer around them, protecting the roots from extreme temperatures.
Excessive moisture or humidity can result in fungal growth. This can be prevented by proper soil drainage and air circulation.
How to Prepare the Soil Before Planting Elephant Garlic?
To prepare the soil for plantation, dig it to about a spade’s depth, remove stones and level and smoothen the surface. Then, work some compost into the soil for a good organic fertilizer. You can add one more layer of compost if you decide not to harvest your bulbs next year. Also, since surface drainage is essential for elephant garlic, making raised beds is recommended.
How to Sow Elephant Garlic?
The bulb comprises ‘cloves’ all held together by a thin paper-like covering. Before planting, you need to separate the cloves and plant each individually. It would be best to place the cloves (1 inch below soil level) with their pointed end facing up.
Also, keep a distance of around 10 inches between each clove in all directions to allow them to grow. Cover up the holes, and water them in. You can also mulch your bed with straws or other organic materials. This will protect the roots from frost, keep weeds down, and maintain moisture.
How to Take Care of My Elephant Garlic Plants?
With regular watering, good ventilation, and rich biodiversity in your garden, you can reduce the incidence of any issues related to your garlic alliums.
You can also consider cutting off flowering stalks, also known as scapes, of your garlic plants. They have a mild garlic flavor and can be used in stir-fries, salads, or pesto sauce.
Moreover, cutting them off when 8 to 9 inches tall will allow your plant to focus on bulb growth better. However, some growers like to use them for ornamental reasons.
Certain weeds and pests like downy mildew, leaf blast, bulb and neck rots, and purple leaf blotch can affect your elephant garlic plants.
To prevent this, you should practice crop rotation, hand hoeing, purchasing disease-free bulbs, and herbicide applications.
What Are Some Companion Plants for Garlic?
One can plant garlic with beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and summer savory. Garlic itself is great as a companion plant owing to its strong smell that repels a range of pest species. It is a natural deterrent to the usual garden pests, as it accumulates sulfur in the bulb, acts as a fungicide, and prevents pests such as aphids.
Also, some growers recommend planting chamomile close to alliums, which is said to improve its flavor. However, keeping peas and beans away from garlic is suggested, as it could stunt their growth.
How to Harvest Elephant Garlic?
When you notice that the leaves are drying out and bending over, it is time to harvest the garlic. You should stop watering them at this point since excessive moisture can cause the bulbs to rot in the soil. To harvest, gently dig the bulbs out using a small hand trowel or a border fork.
It would help to store the freshly harvested garlic bulbs in a cool, dry, dark place. You should also save the largest bulbs to replant them next season. However, it is best to buy new bulbs right before the planting season.
How to Cure Elephant Garlic?
You can either use freshly harvested garlic or cure it for storage. You would need around 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the ambient humidity. Some like to braid the tops together and hang them in small bunches to cure.
To ensure that they have good air circulation, you can even set up a fan on a low setting. This will further accelerate the curing process. Once the bulbs are cured, you can observe a tough shell formed around them.
How to Preserve Elephant Garlic?
To preserve the garlic, you must trim the leaves and roots. Also, remove the stalks half an inch above the bulb. You need to leave the skin on the bulbs and store them at 45-55° F with an ambient humidity of around 50%.
You can put them into a ventilated container like a mesh bag for longer shelf life and better flavor. This lasts ten months and develops a much fuller flavor than freshly harvested elephant garlic. Also, peeled cloves can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer, while fresh garlic leaves can be sliced and used like chives.
How Can I Use Elephant Garlic?
You can use elephant garlic for both – culinary purposes and propagation. Several Epicureans use garlic cloves as a flavoring agent. You only need to slice and sauté in butter or olive oil. It can also be cooked or grilled, giving it a sweet and delicate flavor.
One can also eat it raw in a salad or use it as a spread on slices of Italian bread since it is milder and less pungent than usual garlic. Besides garlic, you can also use the scapes in some ways.
They can be pickled, fermented, stir-fried, and even used raw in salads. It is also one of the key ingredients for pesto. You can freeze it in a raw, resealable bag for up to a year.
Conclusion On Knowing When to Harvest Elephant Garlic
Elephant Garlic is an interesting perennial herb that will continue to add beauty and grace to your garden year after year. If you are starting to grow garlic, you should try and source locally grown, organic garlic from growers, shops, and farmers’ markets.
If that is not feasible, you can look for heirloom and non-GMO varieties that suit your climate online. Whether you use it for culinary purposes or propagation, growing elephant garlic in your garden will be an amazing and insightful experience.
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