Written By: Botanical Interests
Growing, Harvesting, Storing Garlic
From mild and mellow to bold and spicy, garlic is a culinary treasure. Use it raw or cooked to add distinctive flavor.
When to Plant Outside
Garlic is planted in fall for harvest 7 to 9 months later (midsummer). In winter climates, sow individual cloves from mid-September to mid- November. Garlic is frost-hardy, but ideally should be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the first hard freeze to give the bulbs time to establish roots. In warm climates, garlic can be planted until January.
Alliaceae (formerly Liliaceae) Allium or Onion family, includes onions, garlic, chives, shallots, and leeks.
SOFTNECK garlic grows in a variety of climates and is especially good for mild areas where the soil does not freeze. They mature faster than hardneck varieties and store well for up to 9 months. Softnecks are ideal for braiding. HARDNECK garlic is known for stronger flavors and is better for cold climates and produces a tall edible stalk called a scape in spring. Hardneck garlic varieties generally can be stored for 4 to 6 months. Hardneck garlic is not recommended for mild climates of the South where the ground does not freeze; however, pre-chilling bulbs helps to fulfill the cold requirements. Simply place the bulbs in a dark location at 40°F with a relative humidity of 80% for 40 to 45 days before planting.
Optimal Growing Conditions
SOIL: Rich, well-drained, and amended with well-rotted compost. Soil pH range of 6.0–7.0 (average for growing most vegetables). WATER: Keep moist but not soggy. Decrease water as harvest nears to prevent decay of outside layers or “wrappers.” In wet climates or poorly drained soils, grow in a raised bed to increase drainage. In areas where the soil does not freeze, or the soil thaws during the winter, keep soil moderately moist. Mulch soil surface to minimize the need for watering during the winter months. EXPOSURE: Full sun to part shade. MULCH: After planting, apply 2”–4” of mulch (e.g., straw, untreated grass clippings, shredded leaves) to maintain moisture, insulate the cloves through the winter, and help prevent frost heave. Loosen mulch in spring to allow shoots to push through thick or compacted mulch. In very cold climates, remove mulch after the last hard freeze to allow soil to warm. Reapply mulch after shoots emerge. FERTILIZER: In spring after shoots emerge, apply a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or blood meal. Apply again about 2 to 3 weeks later. SPECIAL CARE: Remove weeds regularly to reduce competition for water and nutrients. In spring, hardneck garlic will produce a tall stem with a curlicue at the top and a swollen flower bud at the end. This flower stalk, called a scape, should be removed to keep the plant’s energy focused on bulb growth. Scapes can be eaten, and have a milder flavor than the garlic cloves.
Special Planting Instructions
If you are not ready to plant your garlic, store whole bulbs (do not separate cloves) in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location, out of direct sun (55º–70ºF with a relative humidity of 40–60% is recommended). A pantry or kitchen counter will probably work. Do not store your garlic in the refrigerator. (The cold temperature will encourage early sprouting.) Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves when you are ready to plant. Don’t peel the individual cloves. Plant cloves with the root end down and the pointed side up. Cover the top of the cloves with soil to a depth of 2”. Space cloves 4”–9” apart, with 12”–18” between rows.
Growing Garlic in Warm Southern Climates
SOFTNECK garlic varieties are generally better adapted to growing in warmer climates than HARDNECK types that require a good chilling period during the winter in order to produce bulbs the following summer. Hardneck garlic that is not exposed to a chilling period that is long enough may not produce bulbs, or the bulbs may be small. If you are determined to grow Hardneck garlic in a climate where temperatures rarely drop below 33°F, gardeners may have better results with hardneck garlic if the bulbs are pre-chilled prior to planting. Simply place the bulbs in a location at 40°F with a relative humidity of 80% for about 40 to 45 days. You can put the bulbs in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, but the bulbs must be checked frequently to make sure they do not rot, mold, or dry out. Plant outdoors in December and January to take advantage of cooler temperatures. After planting, apply several inches of mulch to keep the soil cool.
Garlic varieties recommended for warm climates include the softneck California Early, Silver White, and Inchelium Red, and the hardneck Metechi.
Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest when thegreen tops are approximately 40% yellow or brown or start to fall over. This is typically in July and August. Do not leave bulbs in the ground too long or the skins will decay, reducing storage life. To harvest, lift the bulbs gently with a digging fork (flat tines) or a shovel, being careful to avoid cutting into them. Gently brush off any loose soil but leave the roots and shoots attached. Lay the whole plant in a warm, airy location out of direct sun and protected from rain.
Curing and Trimming
To store garlic for later use, bulbs need to be cured. Curing garlic improves flavor and is needed for storability. Hang them by the greens in bundles up to 20 or lay on screens in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area for 3 to 4 weeks until the roots and shoots have dried down (check for and remove any moldy bulbs regularly). Allow space between bulbs for good air circulation and use a fan in humid conditions. Roots should be trimmed close to the base of the bulb. Clean off any additional soil by removing the outermost skin but do not expose the cloves. Leave as much skin in tact as possible, as more skin means longer storage. Leave the tops on softneck garlic if you want to make a garlic braid. Otherwise, trim tops back to ¼”. For hardneck garlic trim the thick stem leaving about ½”.
How to Store
Properly cured garlic can be stored for months in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place such as a basement or pantry. Store at room temperature with 40–70% relative humidity. For long-term storage, keep garlic between 34ºF and 40ºF with 60–70% relative humidity.
Garlic has been eaten and used for medicinal purposes since the beginning of recorded history. Many civilizations believed it provided strength and stamina especially for laborers. Throughout the centuries, texts have mentioned garlic as a treatment for infections, worms, and fatigue, as well as an aid for digestion and respiration. Some current research supports these medicinal uses.
In the Kitchen
Fresh garlic is so juicy and delicious, with innumerable uses in all types of cuisine. Here are two recipes to whet your appetite.
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
A culinary delicacy, tender, succulent scapes have a mild garlic flavor, excellent for use in soups, salads, mashed potatoes, pasta, and more.
Place 1/4 pound of chopped scapes, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and gently fold in 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Add more lemon juice and salt if desired.
Roasting brings out the rich, mellow flavor of garlic. Start with a whole garlic bulb. Remove any excess dried, papery skin, leaving cloves connected. Trim about ¼” off the top of the bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle 1–2 teaspoons of olive oil over and between the cloves. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in a baking pan. Roast at 400°F on the middle rack of the oven for about 40 to 60 minutes until the center cloves are soft. Test for doneness by piercing cloves with a sharp paring knife. Cooking time will vary based on the size of the bulb. Let garlic cool slightly, then separate cloves, squeeze garlic from its wrapper and serve. Refrigerate roasted garlic for up to 2 weeks.
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