How To Plant Garlic

    Photo by Lee Kindness

In The Garden: Our monthly column on growing vegetables, herbs and fruit in your backyard.

Garlic For Strength

There's something about the strong smell and taste of garlic that historically has encouraged people to ascribe special powers to it. For example, everyone knows that garlic is said to have the power to ward off blood-thirsty vampires. If you eat garlic, and have not been bitten recently, you too can attest to garlic's amazing power.

That said, I'm not sure Dracula aficionados are aware that the Vikings revered garlic and fortified themselves by eating large quantities of it prior to departing on plundering raids.

A scary thought, eh? A horde of axe wielding Norsemen roll into town, burn the houses and steal the gold. Then, to add insult to injury, they celebrate with a banquet of garlic-laden bruschetta and stink the place up. No wonder people feared Erik the Red.

Well whether you're preparing to pillage your neighbors house or just making Sunday dinner, garlic can add a lot of flavor to you food. And the good news is that it's very easy to grow. Here's what you need to know to choose and grow garlic:

Hardneck & Softneck Garlic

Garlic is divided into two broad categories with different characteristics:

Softneck varieties have many cloves of varying sizes. Most supermarket garlic is of the softneck variety because it is easier to harvest mechanically and stores better than hardneck varieties. Softneck garlic also matures more quickly and can be grown in places where the winters are mild such as the Southern U.S. and California. 

Hardneck varieties have fewer cloves of more uniform size. These grow around a central stalk. This type of garlic does better where winters are cold. They are more diverse in their flavor profile and are easier to peel than their softneck cousins.

Both hardneck and softneck garlics varieties can vary widely with regard to size, flavor, aftertaste, and storage capabilities. If you haven't really considered garlic before, I think you'll be surprised at the number of choices you have.

To get a sense for the range, I recommend wandering over to the Territorial Seed web site where you'll see over 50 varieties including: Chinese Pink, Belarus, Music, Spanish Roja, Duganski and German Red. For the Fall season 2015, I'm growing a new variety for me called Music. It's supposed to produce very high yields so I thought I'd give it a try. In the past I've and also grown Inchelium Red and Purple Glazer. 

Below are a few descriptions of garlic that I'm reprinting from the Territorial Seed web site to give you a sense for the range of what's available:

Chinese Pink

Very early season. Garlic lovers rejoice! When fall planted, this extra-early-maturing variety will put fresh garlic back into your favorite recipes a whopping 4 to 6 weeks ahead of almost all others. You will be harvesting Chinese Pink late May to early June. All your garlic-loving friends will be green with envy. This fine quality softneck has cloves arranged in two layers, which makes most of the cloves of usable size. It has white outer skins, pinkish-purple inner skins, and pink clove wrappers; stores for 4-5 months. Chinese Pink has a nice mellow flavor that everyone can enjoy.

Inchelium Red Garlic
Mid-season. Inchelium Red is a national taste-test winner in the softneck division. This mild flavored garlic is great baked and blended with mashed potatoes. This large, top-quality softneck was discovered on the Colville Indian Reservation in northern Washington. Stores very well for 6-9 months.

Purple Glazer Garlic
Mid-season. You won't believe your eyes when you see the satiny clove wrappers of Purple Glazer. A vivid, royal purple tinged with shiny gold and/or silver hues makes this one of the most attractive garlics. As a sub-variety of Purple Stripe, a group known for being the "best baked garlic", Purple Glazer has a strong lasting flavor, but not hot and no aftertaste. Its texture is very palatable, like the consistency of cooked carrots. Very easy to peel.

Planting & Harvesting

Growing garlic is very easy. Just break the head of garlic into individual cloves and then plant these cloves in well drained soil about 6" apart and 2 inches deep in mild climates (3-4 inches deep in cold climates). When you plant the cloves, you want the pointed top of the garlic to face towards the sky.

The general advice is to plant garlic about a month before the ground freezes in your area. The easiest way to determine the right date, is to just do a Google search for "Garlic planting" and the name of your state.

Garlic planted in the Fall can be harvested in April/May in warmer climates and July/August in cooler climates. You'll know when to harvest because the leaves will turn brown. It's best to first harvest a few heads to make sure that they are of good size before harvesting the rest of the crop. You should also stop watering garlic about 2 weeks prior to harvest in order to help dry down the garlic heads.


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