If your gonna grow garlic this fall..

English: A basket of garlic (allium sativum) o...

English: A basket of garlic (allium sativum) offered for sale at the farmers’ market in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re gonna grow garlic this fall, and I suggest you do, this month is the time to get your beds ready for it. Add lots of aged horse manure and some greensand to your bed. Then turn it over and wait till October to put the garlic in (you should be ordering now). Don’t worry if we have a freezing night or two in October, it won’t hurt the garlic as the ground won’t actually freeze until later (like December) and the garlic will start to send its roots down, getting a good headstart for spring. I ordered my garlic about 2 weeks ago and am getting some softneck and hardneck varieties which will arrive in October. It’s such an easy crop to grow and the flavor is far superior to store-bought garlic that it’s one crop I always grow in the fall. Just remember to put lots of straw on it as a mulch AFTER the nights start to freeze and pick a bed that you won’t need right away next summer as the garlic won’t be ready till late June-July.

The reason I grow hardneck is for the outstanding flavor although it has a shorter shelf life and must be used up in a few months. The reason I grow softneck garlic is because it has a longer shelf life up to 10 months and there are many tasty varieties of it as well. Besides I’m looking forward to braiding softneck garlic which will be a challenge as I never learned how to braid hair!

Harvesting Garlic-pulled on July 14!

Freshly picked garlic starting to dry on table outside in shade

I dug out the garlic I got from our local Farmers Market and planted last fall yesterday. They say the best garlic comes from local growers, so I’m sure it will be good. It is the hardneck type but I’m not sure which variety-I just remember  it was purple. I planted in mid November of last year, so it’s been 9 months of waiting to harvest.

Hardneck garlic scape

It produced a scape in June on each plant as shown in the picture to the left, which is a curly flower pod that you cut off so all the energy goes into the bulbs developing below the soil. I read after you cut off the scape, you should give them a good watering, then cut off the water to them and wait around 20 days to harden them off.

Almost all hardneck garlic have between  7-8  leaves and when the bottom 3 die back but the top leaves are still green then it is ready to dig out. My leaves died back totally because it’s been so hot here. Be sure you use a tool that can dig deep enough to loosen the soil around each bulb and get under the bulb and lift it out being careful not to pierce it.

After you dig it out, you need to CURE the garlic which takes about 3 weeks. For the first week, lay out all the garlic bulbs (leaving all its leaves on) outside in a warm DRY spot on top of a table or shelf but OUT OF THE SUN with good aeration for a week. On week 2, cut off the leaves to about 4-5 inches above the bulb, trim off roots closer to the bulb, rub off the dirt gently on the bulb and put back on your shelf or table to cure another week. On week 3, trim off the remainder of the leaves down to the bulb and cut off the roots close to the bulb and take them inside to finish curing.  After that third week ends, store them in a cool, dry place in your house. I like to put them into one of my old onion bags that I bought from the grocery store (the ones made of netting) and put in a cool place in the house-for me my pantry. I can’t wait to try some!

Growing Garlic

Hardneck garlic- photo courtesy of daytondailynews.com

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 finegardening.com

Hardneck garlic stalk- courtesy of finegardening.com

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 finegardening.com. They also give more info on this subject.