Shall we plant some garlic today? For the best harvest, I always plant the crop in autumn, several weeks before the first frost. The bulbs need time to make roots before the ground freezes solidly. Once rooted, garlic can survive sub-zero temperatures.
What kind of garlic to grow? Well, for the longest shelf-life, choose “soft neck” varieties. These feature multiple rings of cloves that are large on the outside, and ridiculously small (and rather useless) on the inside. Soft neck garlic is standard for supermarkets.
I’m a big fan of “hard neck” garlic. This kind produces just one ring of large cloves, so there’s no waste. And as an added bonus, in early summer the bulbs send up curly seed-pods, or “scapes.” Garlic scapes are screamingly-delicious.
Where to obtain garlic. In my experience, locally-grown garlic from the supermarket (or farmers market) is always viable for planting. For special varieties, visit one of the many online garlic dealers. Or, just save some of your own, home-grown stock for autumn planting. Like I never do.
Location and soil. Garlic doesn’t grow well in part shade, so select a planting-site that receives all-day sunshine. As for soil, it must be fertile and well-draining. A raised bed is ideal. If you don’t have a raised bed, just loosen the plot to a depth of 6 inches, and then amend it with copious quantities of compost or leaf mold.
Leaf mold is wonderful stuff, my friends. I make it this way.
Next, plant the cloves 3 inches deep, and with their pointed tips facing up. I space mine 6 inches apart on all sides. Cover the cloves and gently firm the soil. If your soil is dry, or if autumn rains are absent, moisten the soil thoroughly. Then mulch the bed with some shredded leaves or pine needles.
Feeding and Watering.When green shoots emerge in spring, sprinkle the bed with some organic, balanced fertilizer. Give the plants 1 inch of water per week, and they will love you forever.
Garlic Scapes. These curly shoots emerge in early summer from hard neck varieties. I cut them off in order to encourage further development of the bulbs below. I can assure you that garlic scapes make the best pesto on earth.
Ah, Garlic Scape Pesto. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried it. Here’s the step-by-step recipe.
And what about pests? Well, there won’t be any pests. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The garlicky-scent is loathed by deer, squirrels, woodchucks, chipmunks, rabbits and vampires. Insects keep their distance, too.
Harvesting. Just when to dig the bulbs is largely a matter of intuition. Some gardeners harvest exactly 3 weeks after the scapes appear. Others, including me, insist on delaying harvest until one-half to two-thirds of the leaves have turned brown. Of course, I always check first, by digging up one or two bulbs. If the heads are large, lovely, and tightly-covered with papery tissue, I know that harvest-time is nigh.
Curing. After harvest, let the bulbs dry, or “cure” for three to eight weeks in some warm, airy place which is out of the sun. Some years, I cure mine in the garden shed, setting the bulbs — their stems still intact — on an old window screen. The screen is balanced between two pots. This arrangement affords air circulation from both above and below. A wire-mesh table will work as well.
When fully-cured, brush off any clinging soil, and cut stems to within an inch or so of the bulbs. You can remove the fright wig of roots now, too.
Winter Storage. Garlic needs cold temperatures to store well. If you can manage it, 35°F is ideal. In my creepy Victorian cellar, hard neck garlic stays fresh and wonderful for several months in temperatures that range from 40° to 45°F.
Now, if you search this website, you’ll find approximately 300 recipes that use garlic. Here are just a few of my favorites (click titles for step-by-step recipes):
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