Growing Garlic

Hardneck garlic- photo courtesy of

Ahh, garlic. Fresh garlic. If you are a cook, you should definitely try growing some garlic. It tastes better than the store bought because it is much fresher and you can grow the hardneck varieties which you won’t find in the grocery store. Garlic originated in Central Asia and dates back over 6000 years. It is used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. It is a species in the onion family, closely related to onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Avoid growing the ones from the store as often they are sprayed to prevent sprouting. Here are the main types of garlic:

Softneck garlic: It’s the most common type you’ll find in the grocerey store. It is usually white with paperery skins. Softneck garlic has a long shelf life and is easier to grow which is why you see it in the grocery stores. It has a layer of cloves on the outside and smaller cloves inside that I find annoying to peel. It’s leafy stalk is pliable unlike the hardneck type. The two main types of softneck garlic are artichoke and silverskin.

Hardneck garlic: It has a central stiff stalk (also called a stem or scape) coming out of the middle which cloves grow around, It usually has fewer cloves but larger.  It has thinner skin and shorter shelf life. The three main types of hardneck garlic are Purple Stripe, Rocambole and Porcelain. Hardneck garlic is considered to be the most flavorful.

Purple Stripe garlic is distinguished by its purple markings. Two varieties are Chesnok Red and Metechi.

Rocambole garlic produces large tan cloves and have a fuller flavor than softneck varieties offered at the store. Two varieties are Spanish Roja and Killarney Red.

Porcelain garlic has satiny skins and fewer but much bigger cloves often as few as 4 cloves to a head. It is often mistaken for Elephant garlic but it’s flavor is fuller.

Their are many varieties to choose from in all three types-I read somewhere there are over 200 varieties of hardneck garlic alone.

Elephant garlic: It is not like regular garlic because it’s flavor is milder and less intense. Many people buy it because it is larger. It is used when a subtle hint of garlic is needed in dishes but is not a substitute for regular garlic. I’m not impressed with it.

Softneck garlic stalk- courtesy of

Hardneck garlic stalk- courtesy of

Growing garlic in the garden is easy. You can buy it through many of the seed catalogs or get  some at our local farmers market in the fall when it is abundant. I don’t know what variety I got last fall, but it is a purple striped type because of its color. Fall planted garlic that has been overwintered will be ready sometime in July. Spring planted garlic can usually be harvest sometime in late August-Sept. Garlic likes enriched soil so add compost to your bed or aged manure before planting. I also put in a little bonemeal  and yum yum mix into each hole at planting time. Separate your cloves leaving them unpeeled, and pick the biggest individual garlic cloves. Separation should be done immediately before planting. Plant pointed side up and about 2 inches deep. Planting 4-6 inches apart will produce more bulbs but smaller. Planting 8 inches apart will produce bigger bulbs.  I like to put a straw mulch around the garlic to help retain moisture and retard weeds. Garlic while it is in the growing state likes to be keep evenly moist to produce the biggest cloves. Hardneck garlic produces a tall stalk (scape) which is actually the flower stalk that will get curly. There are 4 ways to put more of the energy into the cloves just before harvest time.  One way is to  cut off the scape (hardneck type) after a couple of curls. A second way is leave the scape (Hardneck type) on and when the scape straightens out, you stop watering. The third way  is to just stop watering 2-3 weeks after cutting off all the scapes. Another way is to wait till about half the leaves (either type) have died before you stop watering. When this happens, check the tops of the garlic bulb to see if you can feel the cloves while still in the soil. Dig it out carefully after the bulb is good size being careful not to scrape it. Leave it out (but not in full sunlight) to dry out the skins before using. I like to bring it inside during this time as direct sunlight will ruin it. Brush off the dirt after they are dry. It’s relatively easy to grow and nothing taste better than fresh garlic right out of the garden! There are many sites that talk about garlic, but one I really like because of these pictures of the scapes is on their article, “Garlic Begets Garlic” at They also give more info on this subject.