‘Tis The Season – To Grow Garlic
By Debbie Czarnopys-White, Master Gardener
If you’ve never thought of planting garlic, now might be a time to consider doing so. Garlic can add so many flavorful sensations to your food dishes. It also has so many health benefits, but I won’t go into that here. Growing garlic is a space-saving effort, and the two varieties listed below do not cross pollinate so don’t worry about spacing them too far apart. A most favored planting time is from September to the end of November. The two main varieties are softneck and hardneck garlic.
Softneck garlic’s name comes from the very flexible stalk that is often found braided. The onion-like layered parchment that covers the entire bulb continues up the neck of the bulb and forms a soft, pliable stalk good for braiding. Softneck garlic typically has several layers of cloves surrounding the central portion of the garlic bulb. The outermost are the stoutest.
Hardneck varieties do not have a flexible/braidable stalk. It will usually have a very firm stalk sticking up an inch or two from the top of the bulb. Hardneck garlic sends up scapes which are thin green extensions of the stalk that forms a 360-degree curl with a small bulbil, or swelling, several inches from its end. Inside the bulbil are more than 100 tiny cloves that are genetically identical to the parent bulb beneath. Many people call these “flowers,” but they are not really blooms. If left on the plant, the scape will eventually die and fall over, and the tiny cloves will spill onto the ground. Cutting off the scapes keeps the plant’s energy from forming the bulbil and therefore encourages larger bulbs. The scapes can be used in cooking, so nothing goes to waste. They can be a delicious ingredient in your cooking.
Break apart cloves a few days before planting, but keep the papery shell on each individual clove. Cloves from the grocery store are not always usable, but if you’d like to try, go for it. If possible, get cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery. Insure soil is well-drained with plenty of organic matter. This can be made of safe plant clippings, grass clippings or however you make your recipe for your home compost. This way, you’d know it was free of chemicals and other unknowns. Select a sunny spot. Place cloves 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep, in their upright position (the wide-root side facing down and pointed end facing up). In the spring, as warmer temperatures come, shoots will emerge through the ground.
Mulch should be removed in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Cut off any flower shoots that emerge in spring, or the bulb size may be smaller. Weeds should not be a problem until the spring. Weed as needed, but don’t compress or smash the soil in your effort to eliminate every weed. Garlic needs nitrogen. Fertilize accordingly, especially if you see yellowing leaves. You should water every 3 to 5 days during bulbing (mid-May through June).
When beginning to turn yellow and wilt over, harvest by lifting the bulbs with a spade or garden fork. Pull the plants, carefully brush off the soil, and let them cure in an airy, shady spot for two weeks making sure that all sides get to dry evenly. The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. The root crown should be hard, and the cloves can be opened easily. Once the garlic bulbs are dry, you can store them. Enjoy and bon appetit!