You’ve weathered the spring frosts, babied your seedlings and transplants, battled the weeds and the bugs and the heat, and with any luck, by late summer the bounty is rolling in from your garden. Which means it’s time to start thinking about your fall plantings! In addition to starting fall crops from seed, late summer is the best time to decide on what garlic varieties to plant this fall, and preorder your seed garlic. Seed garlic is a hot commodity that often sells out before it even arrives in store, so start planning early! Here’s a guide to the types of garlic we carry and how to grow them.
Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Garlic falls into two main categories, hardneck and softneck. Choosing the right one for your garden depends on what climate you’re growing in, and how you want to use your garlic.
Hardneck garlic, as the name suggests, forms its cloves around a stiff main stem. These garlics are known for being extremely cold hardy, and generally thrive best in cool climates. In the spring, they will send up flower stalks known as “scapes,” which need to be removed. If allowed to flower, the plant will put all its energy into the bloom rather than the bulb, and the resulting bulbs will be scrawny. Removing scapes from hardneck garlic is no chore though, because they’re delicious!
Harvest scapes once the stalk has curled once, and before the flower begins to open. Don’t wait too long or the stem will harden. They have a garlicky flavor, a little sweeter and milder than garlic cloves, and you can use them in recipes much like you would use regular garlic. Or, try them chopped up in stir fries like a vegetable, or made into pesto. Some folks love them so much that they just grill or roast them and eat them!
Softneck garlic, on the other hand, grows pliable stems that are great for braiding, and the stem doesn’t extend through the center of the bulb. Unlike hardneck garlics, they almost never bolt (that is, flower), so you won’t get a spring harvest of scapes. But, softneck garlic tends to produce better in warm climates than its hardneck counterparts, so if you live in the Southern US, a softneck variety is usually the way to go.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
A beautiful purple-stripe type with smooth, mild, flavor and a hint of sweetness. A consistent producer of good-sized bulbs with red streaked wrappers, but has smaller cloves than most hardnecks at 25-30 cloves per 1/2 lb.
A porcelain hardneck variety with a distinctive, moderately spicy flavor that will stand out in any fresh salsa. Plump cloves and good storage quality. Very easy to grow and peel.
A staff favorite here at Sow True! This lovely hardneck garlic has a bold, full-bodied true "garlic" flavor. Consistent producer of large bulbs with fat cloves and red-streaked inner wrappers. A rocambole type, with smaller cloves than most hardnecks.
Softneck Garlic Varieties
A large artichoke-type with a full, garlicky flavor but less spicy bite than many softnecks.
An artichoke-type garlic known for fine, complex flavor, very large bulbs and beautiful splashes of purple color on the wrapper. An heirloom from the Colville Indian Reservation in Inchelium, Washington that is included in the Slow Food “Ark of Taste,” a collection of culturally important food crops from around the world.
A wonderful old Italian heirloom that has been stewarded by our grower in New York state for decades. We first offered this for sale in 2017 and are happy to offer it again for the 2020 season. Lovely, spicy flavor gives just the right amount of kick without being over-the-top. The quintessential Italian braiding garlic!
How to Grow Garlic
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic is planted in the fall, and harvested the following summer. It will grow through the cool autumn days, and go dormant as the days shorten and temperatures drop in winter. It will then resume growth in the spring and form mature bulbs by about mid-summer. Garlic prefers well drained soil with good fertility. A well-amended plot that has a soft tilth will allow the bulbs to grow and spread. Plant the garlic before the cold temperatures of winter freeze the soil to allow it time to grow some roots before the hard winter sets in. Garlic should be planted 2-3 inches below the surface of the soil and 4 to 6 inches apart within rows. Put about 12 inches between rows. Plant the bulb pointy end up! Mulch thickly and in a few weeks you will see small leaves emerging from the mulch. Keep the garlic weed free-through the winter and the shoots will begin growing again when the temperatures warm.
How to Harvest Scapes from Hardneck Garlic
Once hardneck garlic plants are well established they will form scapes. Cut these off where they meet the first leaf. Garlic scapes are edible too! They make a great pesto or can be used in salads or stir-fries. By removing the scapes the plant can put energy into bulking up its bulbs. Softneck varieties will not form scapes.
How to Harvest Garlic
When you see half to two-thirds of the leaves have yellowed, it is time to pull your garlic. This tends to be in June or July depending on your location. As leaves are yellowing, hold back on watering to prevent the possibility of root rot and to thicken the skins. After you pull up the plants, you can quickly wash the bulbs with a hose sprayer and then remove allow them to dry somewhere with low humidity and good airflow for 3 to 4 weeks. This process is called “curing.” You can cut the head off the stalks before curing, or leave them intact. If you want to braid your softneck garlic, before curing when the stalks are still soft is the right time. To store your garlic, keep the whole heads intact until you’re ready to use them, and keep them at room temperature in a mesh bag or basket, don’t seal them up in an airtight container or put them in the fridge.
Spring Garlic, AKA Green Garlic
If you simply can’t wait until midsummer for homegrown garlic, you can harvest some of your crop as spring garlic! Around March, your garlic will have young, tender stalks and a single small bulb (like a spring onion) that has not formed into cloves yet. When harvested at this stage, it has a milder and sweeter flavor than mature garlic. Spring garlic lacks the tough wrapping layers that protect mature garlic heads and allow them to keep for several months, so you’ll need to use it right away. Store it in the refrigerator and use it much like green onions.
You might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned Elephant Garlic up to this point. That’s because it actually isn’t garlic! Though it tastes and looks much like garlic, it is actually a leek. However, its growing requirements are the same as true garlic. Elephant garlic should be planted in fall and allowed to overwinter under mulch. It will grow scapes in the spring like hardneck garlic, and these should be removed (and eaten!) just like other garlic scapes. Pull the bulbs up when the edges of the leaves have turned brown. Elephant garlic will produce a huge head with gigantic cloves, about twice the size of a regular garlic bulb, with a milder flavor than most garlic.