Growing garlic is much easier than you might think at first glance.
To begin with, plan on picking a spot in the full hot sunshine to grow this bulbous plant. It does not grow well in the shadier garden spots.
Use a soil that is high in organic matter. This means digging in substantial amounts of compost to both feed the soil (and the plant) as well as providing a buffer for temperature swings and moisture loss that will reduce yields.
Plant Garlic Bulbs in the Fall
Using high-grade seed garlic is best and you can obtain this from nurseries or yes, you can use the garlic found in grocery stores and divide up the garlic to give you multiple sets for planting.
Plant at the same time as you would plant your tulips. You want the ground to be cool but not frozen.
The objective is to give the the bulb time enough to set roots but not enough time to shoot up a top. In my zone 4 garden, I usually plan on planting in mid-October.
The bulb should be planted so the bottom of the bulb is 2 inches deep and each segment is 4-5 inches apart.
I note you can plant very early in the spring (as soon as the ground thaws) and still get a crop but fall planting is best. Do not bother planting after the ground warms up.
Mulch after the ground starts to freeze a little bit each morning after cold nights. This mulch is an optional exercise. It is handy for keeping down weeds in the spring but not necessary for plant health or growth.
First thing in the spring, there will be small green shoots come up from each bulb. They resemble small green onions. Given that garlic is a close cousin of onions, this should not come as much of a surprise.
The bulb will continue to grow all summer and approximately 6 weeks before you want to harvest your garlic, it is often recommended to knock over the tops. This means to bend them slightly so the tops stop growing and nutrients are poured into the bulbs (making them bigger)
Leave the tops in place (they mark the rows and will be useful later on). When you’re ready to start harvesting, simply pop the bulb from the ground, knock the dirt from the root and allow it to sit on the soil for a few hours to dry out.
Once the dirt has dried, it can be easily knocked off and the bulbs collected.
Store cool and dry and use as often as your culinary dreams warrant. I note the dried tops (if left on) can be braided into rows and the rows hung attractively in a cool, dry kitchen area. A small trick is to use a length of heavy twine as a base for braiding to help hold the bulbs in place and to give extra “purchase” or holding-power for the braid.
Common kinds of garlic (easily found) I note that this is not a complete listing by any means as there are more than 300 varieties being grown.
A hardneck garlic has a “harder” and stiffer neck than the softnecks (below) The shape of this bulb is elongated and symmetrical. If the green tops (that can grow to 4′ tall) are left to ripen, they will produce a small capsule that produces about 100-150 bulblets or aerial bulbs (about the size of small pea) The tops can be cut up when young and used in stir fries.
Popular Varieties of Hardneck Garlic
‘Asian Tempest’: excellent for roasting with a slight purplish tinge. The bigger well grown individuals can grow very large. ‘Korean Red’ is another large bulb with 4-8 cloves, is very easy to peel but is very “hot” and spicy.
‘Brown Rose’ produces very fat cloves and good taste. ‘Brown Tempest’ with a mellow taste (if garlic can be said to be “mellow”). ‘Georgian Fire’ a spicy, hot flavor. ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ another spicy-hot one. ‘Wildfire’ a prolific producer but very strong flavor. ‘Zemo’ is an excellent large bulb that is excellent for roasting and has a mild flavour once roasted.
‘Chesnok Red’ is white with purple streaks and is a good one for roasting.
‘Carpathian’ is very spicy and hot! ‘German Red’ strong spice and heat warning here. ‘Spanish Roja’ that you’ll want if you hate peeling cloves as it is good to peel.
‘Burgundy’ small cloves and mild taste. ‘Nootka Rose’ strong flavor with large bulbs.
If the hardnecks represent the wilder species of garlic, this is the hybrid plant. They give us larger bulbs (with upwards of 20 cloves) that are more difficult to separate and peel. The stalks are not as big or tall.
Popular Varieties of Softneck Garlic
‘California Early’ is what you normally find in grocery stores. ‘Early Italian’ a large bulb with very white skin. ‘Italian Late’ a plump large bulb. ‘Inchelim Red’ a hot flavor with large bulb. ‘Japanese’ a very large bulb.
‘Nichol’s Silverskin’ with the whitest bulb of all. ‘Silver White’ has one of the largest bulbs.
This is actually not garlic but rather a leek and if you’ve ever purchased one, you’ll know how mild and large each bulb really is. These are not much use for cooking but roasting is their strength. Using them in stir fry dishes where you only want a hint of garlic is good as they can be sliced and eaten easily without having any of the heat associated with a large clove. Roasting removes most of the garlic taste – but produces an excellent paste (spread it on crackers with a touch of your favorite jam)