When fall foliage has peaked, it’s time to plant the garlic. If the pungent allium is a commonly used ingredient in your kitchen, you owe it to yourself to grow some, even if you have but a tiny patch of ground in which to do so, because garlic is one of the easiest and most trouble-free crops you can raise. In just one square foot of good soil in a sunny area, you can grow nine or ten bulbs with very little effort. That’s not a lot of garlic, but a major amount of pride if it’s one of the first things you’ve ever planted.

Why bother, you might ask, when garlic is relatively cheap and easy to buy. Organic garlic, however, is not cheap, and most of the less costly garlic in the supermarkets comes from China, where it is irradiated to preserve it for shipping and bleached for eye appeal. Irradiation causes the garlic to lose a lot of its beneficial qualities and, in addition, irradiated garlic cloves will not grow into new plants. On the other hand, any garlic bulb you grow yourself has many cloves in it, each clove the seed for a new garlic plant. After your first successful season of growing garlic, you may never have to buy any again.

We’ve been building up our own crop of large-cloved seed garlic for years, carefully setting the largest heads aside for replanting. Why go for larger garlic? Researchers have noted that larger-sized planting cloves had more vigorous plants with greater leaf area and larger bulb diameter, and it’s just as easy to plant a larger clove. Bigger cloves mean less peeling and easier chopping, too.

Fortunately, smaller home-grown garlic heads have all the attributes of their larger siblings — fresh, juicy cloves with pungent, spicy flavor and no chemicals involved in the growing or storing, and we took comfort in this when, two years ago, we mistakenly planted the wrong bag of garlic. It’s taken two crops to get back to having enough large heads for both replanting and eating. In addition to the larger size, the garlic we grow year after year has adapted to our specific gardening conditions. By saving cloves and growing the plants in the same garden, although not the same beds, year after year, it’s possible to create your own locally adapted garlic variety.

Given how simple it is to grow garlic, it’s remarkable how many gardeners just clean up their plot and walk away until spring. If you’ve pulled all your weeds and spent stalks and plants, why not work some well-rotted manure or compost into a couple of beds and plant them to garlic. Plant in rows eight inches apart, with cloves six inches apart within each row. This gives the garlic lots of room to grow. Plant the cloves with the pointy side up and flat side down, and cover with about two inches of soil. Use a dibbler to make holes or dig furrows in the bed and lay the garlic cloves in them.

After you have finished planting your bed, cover it with a three- to four-inch layer of straw, hay or chopped leaves. This mulch helps moderate weather extremes, keeps weeds down, and conserves moisture. You can leave it on all summer. Then just sit back and wait for your harvest in late July or early August. During the months until harvest, aside from a little watering if needed, and perhaps pulling a stray weed or two, there’s nothing more to do — garlic practically grows itself, with insect and disease problems almost nonexistent.

If you do have a bounteous garlic crop, and have more dried heads than you can use before they begin to sprout, you can make your own garlic powder, handy to have in the kitchen and with flavor far superior to the stuff you can buy. Take a big batch of cloves, remove the papery skins, slice the cloves and arrange the slices in a single layer on the trays of a food dehydrator. You may want to put the dehydrator in the garage or woodshed if you can, as the odor can be pervasive. Dry the slices for a couple of days, until a sample piece breaks instead of bends. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can also use your oven, placing the garlic on a cookie sheet and drying it at the very lowest setting. Once the pieces are dried and cool, run them through a dedicated coffee grinder, spice grinder, food processor, or a mortar and pestle, until they reach your desired consistency: some like granules, others prefer a finer powder. Pour the powder into recycled spice jars with shaker caps or other airtight jars and store them in a cool, dry place. Put a note on your refrigerator reminding you to shake the jars daily for the first week or so to ensure that any remaining moisture is evenly distributed through the powder.

If you have garlic powder, you can go on and make garlic salt. Mix one part garlic powder with three parts kosher salt. Kosher is best because the iodine and other minerals in table salt or sea salt can cause the garlic to discolor. Mix the two together in a food processor and you’re good to go. For seasoned garlic salt, add a quarter cup of freshly ground black pepper to the garlic salt mixture, again using a dedicated coffee or spice grinder, to spare your wrists and grind the peppercorns easily in a few seconds. Whirl the pepper into the mix in the food processor. Once you get started making this, why not make enough to share? It makes a great hostess gift. You might want to skip the recycled jars for gifting and get fancy, packing your salt in mini Weck canning jars, the ones with glass lids with rubber gaskets and stainless steel clamps.