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A few words on growing garlic

harvested garlicGardeners and commercial growers are completing a satisfying annual harvest ritual right now and I, for one, can’t help bragging a little: My garlic bulbs are huge!

My 2013 vintage is my best ever, probably because all the rain in June filled out the bulbs as they finished their underground maturation. Since a friend challenged me eight years ago to grow my own, I’ve learned that the key to heads that hold up in storage is to time the July picking. Leave them in the ground too long and the head is big but basically over-ripe and won’t age well; pull them too early, or without crucial moisture at the end, and the heads are small.

Grown by the ancients from Egypt to China, garlic is widely believed to have almost antibiotic-strength anti-disease properties. From healthy soil, without any chemicals, a clove has the aroma and pungency of  (at a minimum) a dynamite vitamin pill.

So, my primer: In freshly turned, fertile, weed-free soil where no other garden crops were grown, before frost in mid-to-late October, push a single clove with your index finger about 3 inches into the ground, spaced 4-to-5 inches apart. The plant roots from the base, so be sure the tapered tip of the clove is up.

Walk away. Harvest in July.

Seriously, it’s that easy. In late winter, you’ll see polka-dots in the snow, green tips in rows. In six weeks, they make a three-bladed top, 6 inches tall, then finish as a sturdy 2-foot-tall plant. In June, clip off the curly, bulbed “tail” (which is excellent chopped up in stir-frys). I harvest when the lower leaves start turning brown. Pull one straight up and let it dry overnight. If the lobes are not well-defined, it needs a little moisture and couple of more weeks.

I usually grow five or six 15-foot rows, maybe 8 inches apart. After harvesting, let the plant dry in a cool, moisture-free area. Rub the soil off the bulb. You can cut the bulbs off the stalk for storage, though my wife braids the leaves with the bulbs still attached into 5-foot-long garlic chains.

They make a cool wall-hanging, so we bring them from the cellar all winter to decorate a kitchen wall, snipping off bulbs as needed. Our family of three used the last bulb from the 2012 harvest on Saturday.

BizBuzz Best Buys — Artea 2012 Rosé (Alpes de Haute Provence, France) is another fresh and bright yet tender dry pink for summer quaffing, with a nice dollop of yummy Cinsaut, from the place that turns these out like clockwork. Ahhh, yeah, $8.

Red: La Fiera 2012 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (Italy), comes from the lovely, violet-scented grape by the same name, from its home region of Abbruzi. This oft-overlooked, rustic varietal is perfect for summer foods from pesto — in fact, it even smells like pine nuts — with fresh tomatoes and crusty bread to white meats on the grill. It’s lively, with a complex undertow of brambly fruit. Like the pink above, case purchases suggested. $8.