Garlic, Allium Sativum
It likes sun, it’s perennial, and it looks like grass. We should just rip out our lawns and grow garlic instead. The neighbors might not even notice! But hold your breath—unless of course you’ve got garlic breath…
- Cold hardiness zones: 4 – 9 (can withstand temperatures to -30° F, or -34° C)i
- Soil PH: 4.5 to 8.3
- Watering needs: Average. Can recover from short periods of drought.
- Blooming Season: Late summer to early fall
- Harvest season: Varies.ii Usually summer
- Age to harvest: 16 – 30 weeks after planting, depending on the time of year it’s planted.
- Pollination for Fruit: One garlic plant is sufficient to get seed.iii
- Size at maturity: 3 feet (1 meter) flower, but 18 inches (1.5 meters) foliage
- Sun needs: Full sun (not shade tolerant)
- Preferred habitat: A cool (65-80° F, or 18-26° C),iv sunny, open field, with regular (but not excessive) watering.
- Growth rate (vigor): Medium slow (for an herb). About 9 months to mature size.v
- Natural reproductive rate (and methods): Slow, mostly by bulb multiplication.
- Propagation method: Bulb-clump division (separating cloves and replanting)
- Average life span: I can find no specific number of years for the lifespan of garlic, but many sources say it is a “long-lived” perennial.vi
- Plant family: Amaryllidaceae
We’re all familiar with garlic, if only as a food source. And Allium sativum is the quintessential, everyday garlic. And, of course, that’s likely to be it’s purpose in the food forest. But it has many ecological uses/purposes. It looks like grass, grows similar to grass, and is often mistaken for grass (until it blooms a flower, that is). But it is an insect deterrent (other than pollinators coming for the flower), which could be good to plant around a fruit tree. It could also be used to mitigate erosion, since it prefers growing in open, sunny fields and hillsides.
As with other sun-loving plants, the intensity of the flavor can be effected by how much direct sun and how much water it gets. More sun, more intense flavor. Less sun, more intense flavor. LESS sun, less intense flavor. More water, less intense flavor. The sweet spot for garlic flavor for many people is more water and more sun, balancing the two, since less sun and less water is likely to just put your poor, sun-loving garlic out of it’s misery.
I’ll not go into great detail how to eat onion bulb (cloves), since 99% of garlic recipes you search on the Internet will give you more than you can hope for. I will share one point that is often of interest to forest gardeners (who sometimes prefer that the roots of their perennials stay in the ground, rather than get eaten, and therefore killed): garlic greens are as edible as the bulb. You can use garlic greens without digging up the plant, and can simply snip their tops like you would do with chives. They can then be used interchangeably in recipes that call for garlic. Keep in mind, they are (pound for pound) milder than their underground cloves, but you can often make up for that by using a greater amount of the chopped greens. Obviously you don’t want to harvest every leaf on every clove, or the roots will struggle to get the nourishment they need from photosynthesis, so it’s usually best to have a garlic patch, and harvest either just a few of the leaves, or just the tips of the leaves.
Since garlic looks very much like grass, I have often told people that if I was mandated to get a lawn (heaven forbid), I’d probably get a garlic lawn. Maybe if I wanted to get really detailed, I’d have a lawn that’s a mix of garlic, chives, clover, and elfin thyme to fill in any gaps. But garlic and chives would be what would trick people into thinking I have grass.
Garlic has been used for centuries for it’s medicinal properties. It’s specific medicinal uses as an antibiotic, anti-fungal, and antiseptic should be thoroughly researched and discussed with your doctor before attempting. It does, however, have some good health benefits from everyday use as a food. It has the general effect of reducing glucose (good for diabetics or pre-diabetics) and reducing the risk of heart attack. For these functions, fresh garlic is considerably better than dried.
Many advocate for eating large quantities of puree garlic for medical purposes, such as in place of antibiotics. If quantities are taken more than would normally be done in everyday cooking, this should only be done under medical supervision. While completely edible in normal amounts, an excessive quantity of garlic eaten in one sitting can have a toxic effect. And of course, let’s not forget about bad breath.