by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
In my kitchen, garlic reigns supreme. I use it for so many dishes that I like to joke that I put garlic in everything but dessert! Because we use so much fresh garlic, we always grow enough to last us all year. The only problem with growing a ton of garlic is storing it in a way that saves space, preserves quality, and allows for quick and easy removal of bulbs that develop bad spots, bruises, or those that have begun to sprout. To solve these problems I began braiding our garlic. With garlic braids, not only can I easily choose which bulbs need to be used first, but the long strands can be hung virtually anywhere and take up absolutely zero storage space on my shelves. Of course, garlic braids look great and they make wonderful gifts, too. So get your garlic on and let’s braid it in 10 easy steps!
Harvest and Curing
But first, a few words on prepping and curing garlic.
Before you start, remember that any type of garlic can be braided, but softneck garlic is definitely easier than hardneck types. And regardless of what type of garlic you plan to use, be sure to remove the flowering scapes from the growing plants as they appear. This will not only ease the braiding process, but it makes for larger bulbs, too!
At harvest time, keep the plant fully intact. Most sources suggest curing garlic before cleaning up the bulbs, but I find it much, much easier and more effective to take on this task immediately after harvest.
Use a hose-end spray nozzle to carefully remove dirt and rocks embedded in the root mass, which should be left on the bulb during curing. Next, peel one or two – but no more than three – layers of skin from the outside of the bulb. The leaf nearest to the bulb is attached to the outermost layer of skin. Gently pull this leaf down towards the root and most of that outer layer of skin will easily peel away. Use your fingernail to lift off any bits that don’t come off on the first try. Repeat until the bulb is clean and white. (If you didn’t clean your garlic first and it’s already cured, you can still peel off a layer or two of the outer skin, just be very careful not to injure the bulb!)
Once clean, the bulbs are ready to cure. Hang them in a cool, dark, airy shed for up to two weeks, or until the leafy portion has dried and turned brown. I like to hang my garlic upside down during curing because it helps keep the leaves straight and smooth for easier braiding. Once cured, use a sturdy pair of scissors to cut off the roots as close to the bulb as possible. Be careful not to injure the bulb, which can induce rot.
If the leaves and necks of your garlic are extremely brittle or stiff, carefully wrap them in a wetted and wrung-out bath towel for a few minutes before braiding. This will make them a little more pliable. Just be sure not to get the bulbs wet!
For each braid you will need an odd number of garlic plants depending on how long you’d like the braid to be. Braids consisting of 11 to 21 bulbs are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Count these out before you start the braid so you’re not having to count and recount as you work.
To make braiding even easier, break the group into loose sets of three, beginning with the largest bulbs and ending with the smallest. Again, this lets you focus on braiding, not counting .
Step 1 – Start the braid by anchoring three stems together into a knot. Use the three largest bulbs from the group and lay them out on a large, flat working surface. Place stem 1 at an angle, lay stem 2 across that at an angle forming an X, then add stem 3 going straight up and down.
Step 2 – If needed, soften the first inch or two of the neck of stem 1 using your thumbnail. Bend stem 1 over the top of stems 2 and 3 and in between bulbs 1 and 3. Wrap the stem underneath bulb 1 and back up and over stems 2 and 3 to land in its original position. This is the anchoring knot.
Step 3 – Tighten the anchoring knot by pulling on the stems until the three bulbs are snug, but still lying flat. Avoid over tightening to prevent the braid from bunching or curling.
Note: From this point forward each new section consisting of three bulbs will be added in this order: Center. Left. Right. Each new addition will be locked into the braid by wrapping the bottommost stem (or group of stems) over the top of the others. Each time you add a stem to another stem or to a group of stems, the group will be moved together as one “strand”. After each addition, tighten the braid by pulling the stems towards you until that layer of bulbs are firmly in place and touching one another.
Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Think of it as a simple 3-strand braid with a new addition on every turn starting in the center (turn), then right (turn), then left (turn), then back to the center (turn)… always wrapping over the top. You got it!
Step 6 – Add a new stem (#5) to the left of stem 4 and couple it with stem 2. Move stems 2 and 5 to the right while bringing stem 1 over the top and to the center to make 1 the new center stem. Tighten the braid by pulling the stems towards you until the bulbs are firmly in place and touching one another.
Step 7 – Add the next new stem (#6) on the right and align it with stem 1 in the center. Bend stems 3 and 4 (the bottommost strand) over the top of stems 1 and 6, pushing those two to the left to make stems 3 and 4 the new center strand.
Simply continue using the center, left, right pattern, always overlapping the new addition with the bottommost strand, which then becomes the new center.
Step 9 – After all the bulbs in your pile have been added braid the remaining stems together into a simple three-strand braid for hanging. You can cut some of the stems short to thin the strands as you braid, if desired. This will make braiding the tail easier and reduce bulk. Make the tail as long or short as you like.
When you reach the desired length, either tie the long ends in a knot or wrap the end of the braid tightly with string and trim the ends. The braid can easily be hung using a large S-hook pushed through the braid beneath the knot.
Step 10 – Finish off your braid by trimming off any leaves or stem ends sticking out of the back or sides of the braid using a small, sharp pair of scissors. If you like, you can tie a length of ribbon or raffia around the knot to add a pretty finishing touch to your beautiful garlic braids!
That’s it! Super easy garlic braids!
I hope you find the time to braid some of your own garlic this summer. I think you’ll find it relatively simple, even for beginners. And with a little bit of practice, you’ll be a pro in no time.
Not only are garlic braids beautiful and practical, they make special and delicious gifts for those you (really) love. Should you decide to make your own garlic braids this summer, we’d love to share your picture with our readers!
Until then, happy gardening!
© 2015 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide! From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.