The master gardener of the NLM herb garden has a trick: Grow garlic.
It must work.
There haven’t been any vampires in the garden in decades.
Montgomery County master gardener Mary Musselman, one of several dedicated volunteers who tend the National Library of Medicine’s colorful herb garden, says this is a great time of year to plant garlic.
“Planting is easy!” she says. “I usually plant in early November so my bulbs have time to root, and a shoot can start but not get too tall. Garlic likes rich, well-drained soil.”
But she says, “If all you have is clay soil, grow it in a pot or a raised bed. Garlic prefers full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade.”
She buys her garlic from a farmer’s market or gardening center. “Grocery store garlic is usually treated to inhibit growth,” she explains. “Right before planting, gently break the cloves away from the bulb. Make a row about 2 inches deep, put the garlic in pointy side up, about 4 inches apart, and then cover up the row.”
Mary Musselman likes allium sativum (garlic), which comes in two general types.
“Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon is the hardneck variety and is my favorite,” she explains. “It has the central stalk, larger cloves, stronger flavor, and the delicious scapes that come off that central stalk, which are an early treat before the bulb (head) is ready.”
The other type allium sativum var. sativum is the softneck variety. “It is the most common and what is usually sold in grocery stores. It is milder, has more but smaller cloves, stores better and it can be braided,” says Musselman.
When the shoots begin to show, she gently covers them with straw.
If you need to ward off especially hungry vampires, bigger garlic bulbs may help. Musselman says you can make the bulbs bigger by using an organic fertilizer in mid-April and mid-May.
She usually harvests her garlic around the Fourth of July. “You can use it right away, but if you want to store it, keep the bulb attached to the leaves and either lay flat or hang for a month. Trim and store either in a mesh bag or in a bushel basket with newspaper in between layers,” she advises.
As for vampires, the garlic trick seems to work, but should they become immune, the NLM garden has plenty of stakes.