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Yes, this is the season for garlic

Garlic comes in many forms including whole garlic, garlic powder and commercial minced garlic in a jar. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Folklore tells us that if we hang garlic around our necks and in our windows, or rub it on our chimneys and in our keyholes, we will be able to ward of devils, werewolves and vampires. Is it the pungent smell of garlic that seems to repel these beings or is just a myth? I, for one, always have garlic in the house, in fact I use a great deal of it. I can't say as I have ever seen any of these creatures in my environment, so I can't say if it works or not. However, I will be the first one to tell that the myth is false if I find two large bite marks in my neck that I can't recall happening!!

Garlic is a very common vegetable in most households, however most of us think of it as an herb. It is typically used in cooking and as a seasoning for many different types of foods. It can be used in the powder form, minced or as chopped cloves in various recipes. Large cloves can also be baked and spread on crackers or breads for a delightful treat. Most of us don't have it around the house for the scent alone.

Many people are unaware that garlic can be grown in our area as a vegetable in the garden. It grows similar to that of the onion and is, in fact, a member of the onion family. Unlike the onion, garlic develops individual cloves within the bulb.

Garlic is available in two different forms, the soft-neck and the hard-neck varieties.

Soft-neck varieties typically do not produce a flower head and have a flat semi-curved leaf that grows similar to the onion. This variety is good in southern North Dakota and tends to have a longer shelf life than the hard-neck once harvested. Most varieties of the soft-neck will last anywhere from four to eight months at room temperature in a dark and dry area. Some common selections of this type would be 'Silverskin,' New York White' and 'Red Toch' with its reddish streaks within the cloves.

The hard-neck varieties are the hardiest selections and can be grown in the northern regions. These ones have a more round leaf and produce flowers on the stems, which ultimately create the seedpods you would plant in the fall season the following year. These have a shorter shelf life, usually lasting only a few months. Common selections of this type would be 'German Red' and 'Spanish Roja'.

Unlike many vegetables in our area, this one is planted in the fall season. Typically it is planted after one or two weeks of the first hard frost. Each garlic clove is planted to a depth of 4 inches and spaced at 3 inches apart. Each row should be about 18 to 24 inches wide to allow for easy weeding access with a small tiller or a good hoe. The warm autumn soils will allow for root development to occur before the ground freezes up for winter. Often, green sprouts will emerge before freeze-up. If this should happen before there is snow cover, apply approximately 4 inches of straw of leaf mulch to protect them through winter.

Planting these cloves in rich, well-drained soil will produce the best garlic bulbs once they are ready for harvest. An area of full sunlight is ideal for their development. The right amount of moisture is key to success, as too much water will cause rot and not enough will cause smaller bulb size. Always keep your garlic plants weed free as they do poorly with any type of competition.

Once the leaves start to turn yellow, which is typically at the end of August, the bulbs can be lifted. Since pulling them from the ground can cause damage to the bulb itself, it is best to take them out gently with a fork or spade. Once cleaned of soil, lay them out on a screen for good air circulation for one to two weeks until dried. Trim the tops to one inch of the garlic bulb for storage. Soft-neck garlic is the only type that can be braided due to its leaf structure, which makes it ideal for hanging in bunches while getting proper air circulation.

Always discard any garlic cloves or bulbs that get soft or discolor so they do not affect the healthier ones. This spoilage is usually caused due to improper storage conditions and renders them useless.

Many studies have shown that garlic can assist in preventing certain types of cancers and lowering cholesterol. Its scent has also been known to repel mosquitoes by rubbing your skin with the cut cloves. I guess if it works to repel vampires, why wouldn't it work to repel the mosquitoes?

Try planting garlic in your gardens next fall and see how the life cycle works for you. By the time they have been harvested and cured, it may be just in time to use during the Halloween season when the blood sucking demons are out and about. If it doesn't work to repel them, you can always use them for an entire array of things cooking in the kitchen.

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