I’ll admit it, we are addicted to garlic! Whole roasted cloves, minced and sizzling in hot oil or just raw (OK, yeah we went there). Garlic is one of our favorites to grow, having something else to plant and overwinter after all the other crops are done, helps ease the pain of summer being over. So don’t put away your garden gloves just yet! Garlic starts growing in the fall, developing the roots it will need in the spring to support their rapid leaf growth and bulb production. With many types to choose from, you’ll never be bored.
What’s the Difference?
Hardneck garlic has a woody stem, this is the garlic you normally see in the grocery store. Hardnecks have a strong spicy flavor, in comparison to softnecks, which are milder. Hardnecks are easier to peel than soft, with larger cloves that commonly have different colored streaking through them. A to hardnecks are that they generally have a shelf life of six months – but that’s not really a downside… We eat ours so fast this is never an issue! Softneck garlic is excellent in storage and ideal for braiding; these normally store for 10 or more months.
Elephant garlic, lives up to its name, it is giant! It has a mild garlic flavor, the heads weigh about a pound, and the cloves are large and easy to peel. You already know our love for garlic at this point, so there is no shame in admitting that we love to slice the cloves like chips and fry them… (only for the truly committed as your loved ones may keep their distance).
When Do I Plant?
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest like us, the ideal time to plant your garlic is about four to six weeks before the ground freezes, which will be here before we know it. All garlic should be planted in the fall, but there is no rule against planting softnecks in the spring. Softneck garlic is great for the Southern United states, since hardnecks need harsh winters with cold temperatures and snow to develop those tasty bulbs.
To start planning, break the bulbs into individual cloves, sorting them by size. Smaller cloves produce small bulbs, so it is best to plant the larger ones. We like to save and eat the smaller ones – waste not want not! Cloves should be placed in the soil about an inch deep with the root side facing down. If you live in a climate with harsh winters, the garlic needs to be planted deeper, about 2-4” in the soil, with a light mulch applied right after you plant. Don’t worry about the garlic having a hard time emerging through the mulch come spring, it’s is a strong willed (and stemmed).
After you have planted your cloves, there are only a few things you need to do to help your garlic along its way to greatness. Making sure your soil has the nutrients that the garlic needs is important, so fertilize moderately according to the soil’s needs. It is important to NOT fertilize once the garlic has started to bulb, this doesn’t benefit the garlic, and can actually harm it. You also need to keep the area free of weeds. Garlic has a shallow root system and doesn’t need the added competition.
Watering your garlic is essential in the first weeks coming out of winter. Keep the soil moist, but avoid overwatering. Continue to water consistently, until it is time to harvest, then stop water for a few days before you pull your garlic from the ground. Normally around June the garlic will develop scapes, which need to be removed to encourage bulb growth. The scapes are delicious and taste just like garlic, they can be used in almost any dish, and some people even preserve them.
Ready for the Best Part?
The time it takes for your garlic to mature varies from year to year and climate to climate – since ultimately Mother Nature is in charge. As the leaves start to turn brown from the bottom up, get ready to harvest. Every day check the cloves, pulling soil away from the bulb to see the size, and also if the clove has filled out the skin. If the cloves are too small, or the cloves seems loose in the skin, continue to monitor the bulbs and wait to harvest. To harvest you can pull your garlic right up, but if you have hard compact soil, it is best to use a tool to lift under the garlic. Make sure to move the garlic out of direct sun, brushing off large amounts of dirt, avoiding the use of water to clean the garlic, since it will be cured next.
Garlic needs to cure for about 3-8 weeks, in a cool, dry and dark place. We’ve got it made easy here since we have temperature controlled sheds – but for home, we just cure them in the garage. Adding a fan to the area will insure good airflow and help speed up the curing process. After your garlic has cured, find a good area to store it. Garlic stores best between 45-55°F, below 40°F the garlic will sprout. If you’ve braided your softnecks, hang up those beauties and admire them throughout the year. If you’ve gone with hardnecks, get creative with storage. Pickle, dehydrate and turn into granulated garlic or store them in pantyhose! Sounds weird… but it works, trust us.