Only in the past few years have I been growing garlic. I never thought it was worth growing this crop until I tried it. Once I started using home-grown garlic, the bulbs in the grocery store just couldn’t compete.
Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. This relative of onions and leeks has very few pests, isn’t bothered by rabbits (!) and doesn’t need an overly fertile soil to grow well. The only thing it does require is well-drained soil. If water puddles on the ground were garlic is growing, the plants will likely die.
When you grow garlic you have two kinds of garlic from which to choose – hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic (Allium sativum subsp. sativum) is the kind of garlic you find in the grocery store. Each head has 6-18 cloves in several layers. Softneck garlic tends to mature earlier than hardneck varieties and usually has the best storage qualities.
Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon) produce 5-10 cloves per head. The cloves grow in a single circle around a central woody stem, hence the name “hardneck.” Hardneck garlic has a shorter storage life than softneck garlic but is often hardier than softneck varieties.
I grew both kinds of garlic for a few years but now I just grow hardneck varieties. The cloves of hardneck garlic are so much bigger than those of softneck and, since I use a lot of garlic, bigger is better! I’ve had no trouble storing hardneck garlic – I use all of the garlic before it starts to go bad.
Unlike most other vegetables, garlic is planted in the fall. Here in PA I plant it in the middle of October. I break the heads into cloves and plant them 6″ apart and 2″ deep. I then cover the area with straw to control weeds Within a few weeks the garlic sprouts and grows for a while until the cold weather comes. I don’t worry about additional mulching for the winter but in colder areas it’s probably a good idea.
When the weather warms in the spring, the garlic is ready to grow. I find that the plants keep growing until mid-July. You know it’s time to harvest garlic when only a few of the leaves on the plants are still green. Each leaf represents a layer of covering on the head of the garlic. If you wait to harvest the garlic until all of the leaves are brown, the covering of the head is likely to be gone when you dig the plants. As a result the cloves will be exposed to the soil and won’t last very long. If you dig the plants when a few leaves are still green, the heads will have a nice covering. After allowing them to dry in a protected spot (I put them in the garage), the tops can be cut off and the heads put into storage.
You can plant cloves from the garlic you harvested but there’s a chance that they might have been infected with virus during the growing season. If you plant virus infected cloves, next year’s harvest will be much smaller. To me, it’s just easier to order new, certified virus-free garlic each year.
Most seed companies offer garlic but I’ve been impressed with the variety of garlic offered by the Territorial Seed Company. They have over 15 kinds of hardneck garlic. My favorite to grow is Duganski because the heads are huge and the flavor is great. But each year I also get another variety to grow and compare with the Duganski. None of them have disappointed me and I look forward to trying the varieties I haven’t grown.
If you’re a garlic lover and want an easy to grow crop, you can’t go wrong with garlic. Just know that once you start growing it and see the size of the heads and taste the flavor of the cloves, you’ll probably never again plant a garden that doesn’t include garlic!