Flash bulb

Flash in the Pan

Q: Dear Flash,

I think we’re approaching the time of year to stick garlic in the ground, and I’ve forgotten which end of the clove goes up. Would you be so kind as to remind me?

Bulb Curious

A: Dear BC,

Now is indeed the time to plant garlic—the sooner the better, with the freezing of the ground serving as your final deadline. Garlic planted in fall will establish roots and then go dormant for the winter. Come spring, it’s off to the races. Your garlic will be tall and majestic while your neighbors are still staring at the ground waiting for their radish seeds to sprout. Thus, planting garlic in fall ensures your early season rockstar gardener status for next year.

After you’ve prepared a good bed of soil, gently break apart the garlic heads you intend to plant into individual cloves. Leave the skin on the cloves. If you don’t have seed garlic, buy local garlic at the store or farmers market and plant that. If it’s local, it’s likely a variety that will grow well in your area. Just remember to plant garlic that you like, since what you grow will be a lot like what you plant. The most important qualities for me are ease of peeling, flavor, and clove size.

Although commonly referred to as seed garlic, each clove is, believe it or not, an entire plant. The small scab on the bottom of the clove is a rudimentary stem. The roundish growth around the scab is the plant’s baby root, and the fleshy part—the part you eat—is actually a modified leaf. And by the way, once in a while when you’re breaking apart the bulb into cloves (“popping heads,” as they call it in the business) that scabby part comes off. Any cloves missing these scabby parts won’t grow, and should be eaten instead of planted.

Since it’s a whole plant, garlic doesn’t like to be planted upside down any more than a tomato plant would like it, so I appreciate the way you phrased your question, BC. The end that goes up is the pointy end, while the scab end goes down.

Each clove will grow into a bulb, with its own big set of roots, so the cloves should be spaced about six inches apart. You want about three-quarter inch of space between the pointy upper tip of your cloves and daylight. After they’re all planted, use the back of a rake to fill in the dirt above your planted cloves. Then, cover your planted bed with a thick layer of straw mulch—four to six inches—to keep your garlic warm all winter. If you don’t anticipate much in the way of precipitation immediately following your planting, then give the bed a good soaking.

Q: Dear Flash,

My girlfriend has more virtues than I could possibly count. Her breath, unfortunately, isn’t one of them. She has a love of extremely strong-smelling foods in quantities that are sometimes hard to believe—the other day she made an entire meal of nothing but raw garlic and cabbage, two of the most odiferous foods there are.

Such a meal will haunt her exhalations for hours, and I fear her breath. At first it smelled like garlic and cabbage, which I can just about deal with. But after a few hours it smelled like something crawled down her throat and died. I don’t feel good about turning away when she launches her breath in my general direction, but the smell is such a turnoff I don’t have much of a choice. She says garlic is good for you, and she likes it, and doesn’t want to change her eating habits, although it bothers her that her breath bothers me.

What should we do?

Ducking for Cover

A: Dear Ducker,

Generally speaking there are two kinds of bad breath: strong-food related, and the kind that’s a result of bacteria in your mouth and throat releasing gases or producing little chunks of incredibly foul byproduct that linger in your mouth, tainting your every exhalation.

You can at least count your blessings that your girl’s breath is a result of food that is not only good for her, but is in the case of garlic strong enough to keep some of those mouth bacteria in check. In other words, your girlfriend’s breath sounds directly related to the stinky components of her diet and not overactive mouth bacteria. That said, I agree that cabbage—especially when it’s partially digested—and raw garlic are quite pungent and can be a challenge to face.

You may have heard that parsley is a good remedy for bad breath, and filed it away as an old wife’s tale. But it truly does work, and a lot better in my opinion than gum or breath mints, which in your girlfriend’s case would only create the smell of minty half-digested cabbage and raw garlic—hardly any better than what you started with.

Some people say it’s the chlorophyll in parsley that does it, and that other chlorophyll-rich plants like wheatgrass work as well. So if your girl doesn’t like parsley, seek another green alternative. And if that doesn’t work, try eating a lot of garlic and cabbage yourself.

Have questions? Email them.