Now is the time to plant garlic! It’s an easy to grow, mostly pest-free plant that grows and multiplies largely without your help. If you want big heads of garlic, fall is the best time for planting (for a July-ish harvest).
If you’ve never grown garlic before, you might be surprised at how many varieties there are out there—over 600 different varieties and subsets. All of them, however, fall into two categories: Hardneck and Softneck.
Hardneck garlic produces larger, easier to peel heads with nice flavor. This is the kind of garlic you see with that big stalk sticking out of the ground (which is how it gets it’s name—from it’s hard neck). Once harvested, this garlic, if kept in a cool, dry place, will store for about 6 months.
Softneck garlic is easier to grow and produces more garlic per clove. It has soft leaves that can be braided—these are the kinds of garlic you see that have been woven together into those cool looking garlic ropes. The cloves are smaller, but it’s more adaptable to a variety of growing conditions and will also store for a bit longer than the Hardneck variety.
(With proper storage, garlic can last for an entire year!)
So how do you pick what kind to grow? Your local nursery (or seed catalog) will have at least a bit of a description about each variety they carry. My very un-scientific approach is to read all the labels and then take a stab at what sounds good, or what colors I’m drawn to.
This approach is how I ended up with German Red (a hardneck variety) whose description said it produces a hot, strong, spicy flavor. Mmmm. Sounds great to me! I love hot and spicy flavors!
And, Turkish Giant (another hardneck), which claims to be a good garlic to bake with. It didn’t hurt that it’s purple, which is really why I picked it.
Pure science, I say.
Keep in mind when you buy garlic that one clove (not one whole head, but just a little clove) will produce a whole head of garlic with up to about 12 new cloves (depending on the variety). Not that one can have too much garlic, mind you. You just get a lot of bang for the buck with garlic. This is good news for city gardeners with limited space.
To plant garlic, simply separate the head of garlic into cloves. Plant individual cloves about 3 inches deep into the soil (with the more pointy side facing upward). It’s a great idea to mulch your garlic beds right after planting. Your garlic will grow through the mulch and it will help keep weeds at bay.
When it gets close to harvest time (July, if you plant now), remove the mulch to help the soil to dry out a bit before harvesting. After harvesting, allow to dry in a cool, protected area.
Ta Da! What can be easier than that?
So, if you’re wondering what to do with some of the fallow garden space this winter, why not plant some garlic? It will only take a few minutes. And then in July you’ll feel so smart that you planned ahead and planted it now—it will be ready just in time to roast on the BBQ and add to big batches of salsa, and mix in with your homemade salad dressings…oh, the possibilities are endless!
What’s not to love about garlic?