Ask Farmer Tim: Got Good Garlic?
Tim King loves growing and eating garlic. This month, he talks about the powerful health benefits of garlic and the reasons you should eat at least one clove each day. He also shares the secrets of planting and harvesting your own garlic bed.
Why is eating garlic good for you?
Tim King: Well first of all, it tastes great, but the active ingredient that is responsible for garlic’s reputation as a health food is called allicin. Allicin is an aromatic oily liquid that is released when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed. In nature, this compound protects the plant from pests. When we eat garlic, the allicin protects us from getting sick. I read a study by an English man named Peter Josling that showed that eating garlic can reduce the chances of getting sick from the flu or common cold by 60%. For those who do catch a cold, eating garlic can reduce the length of the illness by up to 70%. That’s not all. Garlic has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiprotozoal properties.
How often do you recommend eating garlic?
TK: I eat at least one clove of garlic every day. Garlic is at its best eaten fresh and crushed. The crushing releases the allicin and makes it easier to digest and take advantage of the health benefits. I like to crush the skin, dice the garlic, and toss it on a sandwich.
Every meal that I cook begins with olive oil, garlic, and onions. Roasted garlic is easy and amazing. You can spread it over bread or use it as a topping. Another simple and great tasting way to use garlic is to toss a few cloves into the boiling water when you are making mashed potatoes. Cook and mash them right along with the potatoes. I recommend that instead of stocking up on vitamins, you invest in high quality garlic. The garlic we sell at Freedom Farms costs more than the garlic on the shelves of the grocery store, but it is absolutely worth every penny.
What makes Freedom Farms garlic different?
TK: The garlic that we grow on our farm is incredibly potent. Garlic that you buy in the grocery store is usually grown in China and shipped halfway around the world. That Chinese garlic is watery, tasteless, and lacking in potency. There’s very little garlic aroma, and the bulbs are dry and lifeless.
One bulb of my garlic is more potent than five bulbs of Chinese garlic. We select heirloom varieties known for potency and flavor. We grow our garlic without chemically engineered fertilizers or pesticides. Garlic oil contains the allicin which offers powerful health benefits. When you unwrap a clove of my garlic, your fingers will be sticky with garlic oil.
Let’s talk about growing garlic. You’ve said before that you learn something new with each growing season. What did you learn this year?
TK: The weather this year made it a tough year for growing garlic. The timing was bad. With garlic, you want to have a lot of moisture in the soil up until the last three weeks, so that the bulbs can dry out. This year, it started out really hot and dry, and then got really wet. It was sopping wet for an entire month. The garlic was trying to dry out, and we had a lot of root rot in the bulbs and lost some. When you have more water than the ground can accept, you get rot. We lost a whole acre of peppers to root rot as well. In the future I will plant my garlic on high ground with really good drainage, and irrigate it more.
When do you plant garlic?
TK: Garlic bulbs are planted in the late fall. Here in Pennsylvania, we plant at the end of October. I always shoot for Halloween. I’ve had success with that date and I’m sticking to it. What you want is some root development but no foliar development going into the winter. If you plant too early you’ll have garlic coming up out of the ground, which will result in winter injury.
I do have garlic seed for sale, and the price is half that of other growers in the area. If you want to grow a crop of garlic, you should prep the ground now.
I want to plant some garlic this year. What should I do?
TK: Get ready now. The first thing you need to do is select a site and prep the soil. Find a spot that has good drainage, or use raised beds. Garlic loves organic matter. If you have heavy soil, you should add compost, mushroom manure, and a lot of hay.
In my case, I had a piece of ground that had grass for hay on it earlier this year. I’ve plowed it, and now I’m adding a bunch of compost. I’m also sowing oats to keep the soil from eroding. Oats won’t develop enough to cause a problem but they will hold the ground and give us a little extra green manure with organic matter. The bed will be ready to plant on Halloween. We plant our garlic in rows, spaced six inches apart. Push the cloves, narrow tip facing up, half an inch below the top of the soil level. Once you do that, cover those beds with six inches of straw mulch. The straw will suppress a lot of the weeds but also hold a lot of moisture in the ground, and the garlic will push right up through it in the spring.
We have seed garlic and straw mulch available at the Farmers Market, so stop by and pick some up.
Josling, P. (2001). “Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: A double-blind, placebo-controlled survey”. Advances in therapy 18 (4): 189–193. doi:10.1007/bf02850113. PMID 11697022.
Originally published in the September 2015 edition of Freedom Farms Magazine.