The perfect project for the curious desert gardener just might be planting garlic.
Once the inground garden bed, raised bed or large container is prepped with compost and fertilizer, it will be ready for the cloves from the garlic bulb.
A word of caution, though: Get your garlic from internet sources. Farms and nurseries in Arizona sell a stunning array of garlic varieties expressly for planting, unlike the typical garlic in the grocery store.
Note that some are hardnecked and normally planted in colder climates, while others are softnecked and better suited to warmer climates. Refrigerate purchased seed garlic in a paper bag for four to six weeks. This is called vernalization.
The optimum planting window in the low desert is usually from October through November. When planting, break the garlic bulb apart and plant the flat side of the clove downward and the pointed side up. It is recommended to plant cloves about 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Mulching is also advised. Be sure the soil is only moist and not saturated. The first signs of growth will appear in early spring, following winter dormancy.
Certain garlic varieties may send up flowering shoots called scapes. It is advised to trim these shoots to direct all energy to the bulbs below ground. These green scapes may be used in cooking sauces, pesto and soups, giving a mild garlic flavor. They can also be added to the compost pile.
Harvest here in the low desert before oppressive heat sets in, usually from early- to mid-May depending on the temperature of previous months. When the lower leaves of the plants turn brown, the bulbs are ready.
The bulbs may not look as big or white as those bought in-store, but don’t let that concern you. Depending on the variety purchased, they may take the shape of a turban artichoke.
When harvesting, use a garden fork or spade to gently lift the bulbs out of the soil instead of pulling them like an onion or carrot. Try to avoid nicking the bulb. If the bulb is nicked, put it first in line to use for cooking.
Keep the remaining tops on the garlic after harvesting to let the leaves direct more energy into the bulbs. Lay them out to dry, shading them from the sun. Due to the dry desert air, this can be as short as two weeks. Carefully trim the roots and the tops once dried. Store in a paper bag or open tray where air can circulate, avoiding the refrigerator.
Milder-flavored desert-grown garlic will be a welcome addition to your kitchen.
Maricopa resident Trudy Fuller is a Pinal County Master Gardener volunteer.
The October edition of InMaricopa Magazine is in Maricopa mailboxes and available online.