Fresh garlic is an indispensable addition to my cooking. I use a lot of it throughout the year – so I grow a lot of it. I save the seed back from every year’s harvest in July to replant in October or November for the following year.
“Seed garlic” is the term for a bulb of garlic in which the cloves have been separated. The individual cloves are the seed. When the cloves are joined together the garlic is called a bulb.
Garlic belongs to the genus Allium and the species sativum. The species is divided into two distinct types: hard neck and soft neck .
I plant the “hard neck” variety. The hard neck type of garlic does very well in northern climates – cold winter followed by a wet spring. There are three types of hard neck garlic – Rocambole, Purple Stripe and Porcelain.
The “soft neck” variety of garlic is what you’ll probably find in most grocery stores. Soft neck garlic ships well and prefers growing in a warm climate. The two main types of soft neck garlic are Artichoke and Silverskins.
One of the types of garlic that I grow I consider to be “heritage” garlic. I’m not sure of the name of that particular variety, but it is a purple stripe variety. I traded eggs for the first seed many years ago.
The man who I traded with told me, that it is an Italian variety of garlic that was brought into this country years ago via a suitcase by an old man who he had known 40 years before.
Whatever the variety is has a wonderful flavor and odor. The other type of garlic that I grow is porcelain type garlic. Porcelain garlic stores well for me and I like the fewer, but bigger cloves.
Garlic is easy to grow. In my climate (western Pennsylvania – ag zone 5) this is the time of year to plant it.
The most important tip for growing great garlic is to start with the correct variety for your area. Not all varieties will grow everywhere with success. Select plump, disease free cloves for planting. Rich well-tilled soil is an advantage when growing garlic.
Good, loamy soil always gives a bigger bulb that produces a thicker stem. The thicker stem is an indication of the size and health of the cloves.
I try to wait to plant garlic until after a couple of hard frosts. I don’t like to plant too early because the garlic tends to heave out of the ground. October and November are the best planting times in my area.
And for those of you who like to garden by the moon and the signs, plant garlic in the first or second quarter of the moon under the sign of Scorpio or Sagittarius. Harvest garlic when the moon is in a dry sign – Aries, Leo or Sagittarius.
Choose a location with good drainage and full sun. Dig a long, shallow trench about 2” deep and mark the two ends. It’s important to mark the trench row so you’ll be able to find it in the spring. Garlic doesn’t always send up green sprouts in the fall. A lot depends upon the weather. Place a nice size clove root side down and pointed side up snugly into the trench so that it makes good soil contact.
In the spring keep the garlic well weeded and apply mulch if you want.
The mulch will help to retain soil moisture and discourage weeds. I like straw for mulch because it is readily available to me. But you can use anything. Old newspapers and plastic grocery bags will work fine as long as you weigh down and anchor the sides with soil.
Garlic is ready for harvest when the tops of the plant start to turn brown, die back and topple over. The time that this occurs varies from year to year. For my location it’s usually at the middle to end of July, or some years early August.
The best way to test for harvest is to pull up a garlic plant and check the sheaths that surround the bulb.
The sheath is the layered paper like covering that surrounding the cloves. Two or three layers of sheaths are ideal for garlic.
I always spray off the soil with a garden hose and then place the bulbs upon a wire rack to dry out in the sun for a couple of weeks if the weather isn’t too wet and the sun isn’t too hot.
If the weather is extreme I dry the garlic bulbs on a covered porch.
Once the bulbs are good and dry, I cut off the roots and either attempt to braid the garlic (hard neck garlic doesn’t braid well) or tie it with twine and hang it. I try to store my garlic at a temperature of between 50ºF – 70ºF.
And when the fall comes around again select the biggest and the most perfect bulbs for seed and start the process all over again.