In our house, garlic is a food group. When “garlic” is scrawled on the grocery list, it is assumed that at least three bulbs should be purchased, not one. So it’s only natural that, this year, I decided to grow garlic for myself.
There are several varieties of garlic. Following are the three most common types of garlic.
Hardneck garlic produces fewer, but larger and easy-to-peel cloves. It grows best in climates with cold winters.
Softneck garlic is the variety of garlic commonly found in grocery stores because it is easier to grow mechanically. The skins are tighter, which means that it can keep for longer, and the cloves harder to peel. Softneck garlic is also easier to braid, as the tops are softer and more pliable.
Elephant garlic is easily recognizable, as it is larger than traditional garlic bulbs. Elephant garlic is not actually garlic, but is part of the leek species. Its flavor is mild and sweet.
In the northern regions, autumn is the time to plant garlic. Generally, garlic should be planted 4-6 weeks prior to the first hard frost. Individual, large, unpeeled cloves should be planted upright, about an inch deep and four inches apart, in an area that gets plenty of sun and where the soil is not too damp. The cloves should be planted individually, upright and about an inch (25 mm) under the surface. Rich, loose and well-drained soil is best.
Harvesting garlic can be tricky. The easiest way to determine when to harvest garlic is to watch the leaves. When they begin to turn brown and die, then the garlic is mature. Do not wait until all of the leaves die, however; by this point, the garlic bulbs may be overripe.
To harvest, if your soil is loose, you can simply pull up on the leaves and remove the bulbs. Or use a shovel or garden fork and very gently pry the bulbs up from the ground, taking care not to damage the bulbs. Place the bulbs down gently in a basket or wagon; do not handle them roughly or you risk damaging all your hard work. Then wash, dry and store the bulbs in a cool place to dry out.