GROWING GARLIC – TRONG TOI TAI NHA
I have many recipes and associated pictures ready to post but I need to postpone them for this article on garlic because my husband and I just harvested our first garlic bulb today. When you see the photos you will understand my thrill.
People do not know the origin of garlic but they suspect it came from Asia. Just the fact that China is the largest producer is convincing evidence. What I care most about is its culinary and medicinal uses and cultivation.
Thanks to studies of many scientists, garlic has been used to prevent high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In Vietnam doctors often prescribe garlic tablets for their patients. I remember when our family chickens got the flu my father used to open their mouths and pour in garlic liquid that he had made by smashing garlic with water. In the same way, we children were obedient to open our mouths for some drops of that liquid, or were shocked when that liquid was dropped in our nose if our severe flu lingered for too many days.
Now that you know the a traditional medicinal quality of garlic, you may feel indulgent instead of guilty when chowing down a loaf of garlic bread. Yes, garlic is used in so many dishes. It is popular in Asia as well as Europe and America. In Vietnamese cuisine, we use garlic to flavor the oil or pork fat before cooking something in it. I never can forget the aroma that arose when garlic pieces were dropped in the oil at the right time and cooked in my parents’ kitchen. I always use garlic in my cooking. You can see it in many my recipes. (Refer to my garlic oil and garlic chips blog posts.)
Last fall I planted 6 cloves into our garden bed. The spacing was 6-8 inches. I poked the holes about 2 inches deep below the surface and placed each clove with the top (the pointed ends) up. Next, I covered them with a layer of mulch. Can you imagine? No maintenance at all all winter long. We have only watered them since the spring when we planted tomatoes next to them. Last week the garlic plant stems and leaves started to brown. This is the indicator of harvesting time. Today I pulled one root up and counted: ten garlic cloves in total. What an abundance from one original clove! Now we need to stop watering the remaining garlic plants for the best results.
The best part about growing garlic is that it does not need a lot of space and depth, so you can plant them close and in a container. That is what we will do for the next crop to free up space in our garden bed for other vegetables. It is also easier to water or stop watering when we need to. Now you have no excuse for not planting them. You just need a small pot with some dirt and a place outside the balcony or on the window.
Before I go, I must reveal something else: According to Buddhism, garlic is claimed to stimulate sexual desire and provoke an aggressive drive to temptation. That is why in Vietnam, in vegetarian dishes garlic is never used. Instead, people use leeks or “cu kieu” (a type similar to spring bulb, only elongated and slender) to substitute the flavor and create a pleasing aroma.
It might sound like villager superstition, but back in the old days there were rumors that evil, superpowered criminals lured the innocents and steal from them, or do other nasty things. To avoid this fate, we would never leave our house without some garlic cloves in our pocket. As a young girl, I felt the protection offered by garlic.