Hyperlocal: The Backyard Garden
Garlic is one of my favorite flavorings. If all I had was garlic, onions, salt and pepper, I could still make the most amazing food imaginable. My husband has been known to eat an entire head of roasted garlic in one sitting. We may stink, but boy are we happy.
What most don’t know is just how easy it is to grow garlic, and just how many varieties there are to choose from. Softneck varieties have a milder flavor and smaller bulbs. They tend to keep longer than other varieties. These are the ones you likely find in the grocery store. They’re also the type that are very often braided and hung up to look very pretty and practical. They do not produce a seed head, which is also called a scape.
Hard neck varieties are my personal favorite. They produce that wonderful scape as a bonus as well. Hard necks like German Red and Music, produce enormous heads. Their cloves are equally huge. Instead of producing multiple small cloves like soft necks, these produce 6-10 large cloves. The flavor is spicier and much more intense than what you normally find in stores. The one picture below was just harvested from my garden. It’s about the size of a baseball.
If you want to plant garlic, you need to start thinking about it now. It’s a bulb and as such needs to be planted in the fall. If you want something fabulous, it needs to be ordered in the next month or so. Garlic tends to sell out rather quickly. When you receive the heads of garlic, just set them aside until October or November. I tend to plant around Halloween, but have planted as late as Thanksgiving.
Planting is easy. Just break apart the heads into individual cloves. Leave the papery skin on. Push the cloves with your finger, into the ground. You’ll have the pointy end up. Make sure they are 2-4 inches into the ground. Cover the bed with straw, leaves or grass clippings. You want about 6 inches of mulch over the top of the bed. Then just walk away.
That’s really it. If we have a warm spell, you may see the garlic send up shoots. Fear not, it will survive more snow and cold. These are hearty plants. In June or July the hard necks will send up scapes. The curly cue scape should be cut off the plant to force the plant to put more energy into a larger head.
When the plants are starting to get a little floppy and about 1/2 brown, they’re ready for harvest. Just pull them from the ground and lay them out to dry. When drier, brush the dirt off and move them to a dry spot. They can be hung to cure, or laid out on a table with lots of air. The tops will dry out and you can cut the tops off and store the bulbs for use throughout the year.
I’ve been planting and replanting from the same seed stock that I bought 4 years ago. In the fall I choose a few heads of my July harvested garlic and plant that. As the plants get used to your garden’s climate, they will do better, get bigger and taste even better than what you originally started with. The best part is that you never have to buy garlic or seed again.