This weekend, when you are planting your tulip bulbs and your daffodil bulbs and your crocus bulbs, think about planting a few garlic bulbs.
The planting season for garlic starts now in our Mid-Atlantic zone, just when you might be putting the rest of your garden to bed for the winter, and it extends until Thanksgiving.
The bulbs will send down roots now and use winter's dormancy to develop. Then they send up shoots in the spring, so that mixing them in your perennial bed is a good idea. Fresh garlic will be ready for harvesting in July.
There are several wonderful garlic varieties available for planting - soft necks and hard necks - in the home garden. And purchasing different varieties allows you to taste garlic you might never find in the grocery store.
But the renewed interest in vegetable gardening this year has caused a run on garlic bulbs this fall, and supplies disappeared quickly.
Not to worry. If you can't find garlic bulbs at your home and garden center or don't want to wait for a mail order, simply go to an organic grocery store and purchase a handful of garlic, breaking off the individual cloves for planting - 3 inches deep, pointed side up and 3 inches apart.
"Organic is best because sometimes garlic is sprayed with chemicals to inhibit growth once they are harvested, like they do to potatoes or onions," said Carrie Engel of Valley View Farms in Timonium.
Choose the brightest spot in your yard, Engel advises. "They are pretty hardy, but they like the sun," she said. "And the good news is, they are naturally deer- and animal-resistant. You don't have to worry about squirrels digging them up."
Choose the largest cloves for planting and amend the area with some compost. Engel suggested adding a little bone meal or bulb booster, too. Water the bulbs and make sure they get more water if the winter is dry. Fertilize again in the spring but stop in May.
Cut the flower heads off when they appear, as they can drain strength from the garlic heads. You can clip some of the scapes for salads or pesto, too, but do not remove all of them.
The garlic will be ready for harvest when the tops begin to die back about two-thirds of the way down the stalks. Let the bulbs dry on a picnic table in the sun.
Then all you have to do is open the olive oil and warm the saute pan.