You know Johnny Appleseed? I’m like him. Only with garlic. There are so many varieties of garlic out there, and they all have so much to offer. It’s nearly impossible to choose just one or two. So I dabble with several varieties. If one of these sounds intriguing, and you’d like to try your hand at planting, drop me a note in the fall. I’ll gladly send you a head of something. I firmly believe in spreading garlic joy.
CURRENT SOFTNECKS: Softneck garlic grows best in milder climates and generally does not put up a flowering scape – unless the plants are stressed. The bulbs are typically made up of several smaller cloves, as opposed to a few larger ones. Softnecks tend to have a longer storage life than hardnecks – but not always.
creole red (silverskin): A garlic pig favorite. With a sweetness that is perfect raw, sautéd, or roasted. Stores well into the winter months. My creole red almost always sends up a scape, even though it is a softeneck – reminding me that it would really rather be biding its time in a warmer clime. Still, it manages to put up with me year after year. Which is nice, because I’m not sure I could live without it.
cuban purple (silverskin): I have to admit that I first tried this seed based on a description I read: “This garlic is as hot and sweet as a tiny cup of hot Cuban coffee in Havana!” How could I go wrong?! I’ve not been to Havana, but I think the description is spot on. This soft neck does struggle a bit in my northern climate, but it’s still worth growing.
early portugese (turban): Early maturing, sweet taste with a hint of heat. Packs a lot of flavor without a strong aftertaste.
kettle river giant (artichoke): This stately garlic produces big, flat bottomed bulbs comprised of 10 – 15 beautiful cream colored cloves. It has a rich, nicely hot garlic flavor and it keeps well. I think it is one of the most intriguing garlics to look at.
CURRENT HARDNECKS: Hardneck garlic thrives in northern climates and is easily distinguished in the field by its flowering, curly-cue scape. Their bulbs tend to be made up of fewer, plumper cloves. They have rich, complex garlic flavor, but generally do not store as well as sofneck garlics.
purple glazer (purple stripe): Great garlic flavor, especially raw. Which means it’s excellent in pestos and salsas. Full of flavor, but not to overpowering. Nice plump cloves.
spanish roja (rocambole): True garlic flavor. Once described as the “most piquant garlic in the world.” And it’s an easy peeler, to boot. But its great rich taste doesn’t keep forever, so this is the variety I use up first.
romanian red (porcelain): Another garlic pig winner. Rich, and pungent with a bite built to last. Great roasted for use in sauces & soups. Nice large, easy to peel cloves. Keeps fairly well.
zemo (porcelain): This is a new one for me, but it is said to have a great, spicy, raw flavor. It hails from from Republic of Georgia.
PLANTING: Garlic should be planted in the late fall. I usually aim for Columbus Day in my neck of the woods. Break apart a head of garlic and plant individual cloves, root side down, pointy tip up in freshly worked up soil. Push each clove down about twice the depth of the height of the clove. Space cloves six to eight inches apart. Give everything a nice pat, wish your cloves well, and cover everything with a good layer of straw mulch. I’m very generous with the mulch. I hate the thought of being cold.
MANAGEMENT: In the early spring, start pulling back the mulch a bit to make sure the new sprouts can emerge. Keep your patch weeded and watered. At some point hardneck garlics will start shooting up a seed scape – mid to late June for my garlics. Snap these beauties off and do something wonderful with them like this or this. Scapes are great to eat, but clipping them off also lets the garlic put more energy into producing a larger head.
HARVEST: As summer wears on, the leaves of the garlics will start to brown and die back. Each green leaf represents a paper layer around the bulb. For maximum, ideal storage, you want there to be five or six papers around the bulb. I usually start checking my garlics about three to four weeks after the scapes shoot up. You can cut into a cross section of a bulb and pretty easily tell how filled out it is. If it’s not ready, use up the fresh garlic and check again in a week. When it’s ready to pull, loosen the bulbs with a pitch fork, pull, and tie in small bundles to cure. Hang the garlic in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight for a two to three weeks. At this point you and clip the tops and roots and rub off any excess soil.
STORAGE: Most garlic will keep quite nicely for many months if stored properly. I am usually using the last of my harvest right around the time I can legitimately start poaching from the new crop in the ground. Store garlic in a dry, cool, preferably dark environment. The mesh bags that citrus come in make great storage bags. Never, ever, put a head of garlic in the refrigerator. It will not like it. At all.
Now go forth and plant garlic.
A FEW GARLIC INTENSIVE RECIPES: