Garlic bulbs contain four to 12 cloves around a central stalk. When planted in the fall, each clove will form a new bulb that’s ready to harvest next summer.
This old dog learned a new trick! And it was so embarrassingly easy I don’t know why I didn’t try it decades ago. After more than 30 years of gardening, I finally planted garlic for the first time last fall.
The obstacle to growing garlic, as it turns out, was my perception of the gardening calendar. Like most northern-tier gardeners, I think of the vegetable-gardening season as running from roughly April to October. When the hard frosts of autumn knock down the last of the squash and pumpkin vines, I close the book on another season.
The time to plant this pungent bulb is just when the rest of the vegetable garden is hitting the compost pile; growing garlic required me to think outside the seasonal box. Aha! My epiphany came when I finally connected sowing garlic with planting daffodils and tulips and ornamental alliums.
The garden center where I bought my fall bulbs offered a dozen or so kinds of garlic. The selection seemed daunting! I felt like a novice gardener who goes looking for yellow daffodils, and suddenly discovers that they come in a baffling array of shapes, sizes, colors, and bloom times. How to choose?
In early summer, hardneck garlic varieties produce loopy-looking flower stalks. These should be cut off before they uncurl. The tender stalks can be used in stir-fries or sautéed with vegetables.
Garlic falls into two broad categories: soft-neck and hard-neck. “neck” refers to the presence or absence of a flower stalk. Soft-neck varieties do not produce a stalk; hard-neck varieties do. Most of the grocery-store garlic is of the soft-neck persuasion because these varieties have a long storage life and grow especially well in California.
More hard-neck varieties thrive in cold climates, however, and they offer a range of sharp, rich flavors. In midsummer, hard-neck garlic plants send up curved flower scapes that resemble highway interchanges. The stalks are an added bonus because they’re delicious when chopped and added to sautéed or stir-fried vegetables and meat.
Hard-neck garlic is divided into numerous varieties, each of which has many named selections. The varieties include Rocambole, Continental, Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Porcelain, and others with differing color, clove size and count, days to harvest. I chose two selections of Porcelain called Georgian Fire and Georgian Crystal, plus Russian Red Rocambole for my first foray into garlic growing.
To make the planting-a-vegetable-in-autumn transition easier for my brain to accept, I tucked my first garlic cloves into a fertile flowerbed between widely spaced clumps of daylilies and coneflowers last fall. This spring, the wide grassy garlic foliage blended well with its leafy perennial neighbors.
The garlic was ready to harvest by midsummer, just as the flowering perennials began to jostle it for space. As my spading fork turned up the papery bulbs full of fat, juicy cloves, I was hooked. From my modest half-pound investment in seed garlic, I harvested about 3 pounds of bulbs. That’s enough garlic for frying, baking and turning into soups and sauce well into winter.
Garlic has earned its own space in the vegetable garden this fall. I splurged on a full pound of seed garlic bulbs this time, and I’m already dreaming of roasted garlic and olive oil on sourdough bread. Mmmm.
For more information how to grow garlic and where to buy seed garlic, click the links below:
- Growing Garlic in Minnesota from the Minnesota Cooperative Extension
- The Garlic Planting Guide from the Seed Savers Exchange
- Buy garlic from Filaree Farm
- Buy Garlic from Johnny’s Selected Seeds
- Buy garlic from Territorial Seed
- Buy garlic from The Garlic Store
Horticulturist, Gardener’s Supply