The good word is out about home grown garlic. And the one word is flavor. Yep, think about it, when you buy a garlic bulb at the supermarket, what kind are you buying? If you answer just one then you are correct. Now there’s your lack of flavor and variety, we’re given just one type of garlic in a large bin to bring home to finish your favorite sauce. Imagine if you could only buy one type of pepper or apple for the rest of your life…no jalapeno, are you kidding, no honeycrisp!!!
The only way you’ll have a wider selection of garlic, which means a broader range of taste and characteristics is to grow your own and fall planting is the best.
I grow a lot of garlic for a home gardener. I mail order anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds. Depending on variety, one pound of garlic can be 3 to 6 garlic bulbs. Each clove on the bulb is planted which nets you a full bulb when you harvest next spring. Keep this easy math in mind when you order or purchase. The local independent garden center is finally getting it and offering more garlic planting stock for sale in the fall. They generally package them from one to three planting bulbs, very doable for small spaces. You can also check local farmer’s markets. Mail order availability decreases in the fall, so next year order early in the summer or as soon as you get their catalog in the mail or when they start taking orders on line. They’ll ship when it’s time to plant.
It’s best to start with quality planting stock versus buying grocery store garlic to plant for two reasons. You don’t know if grocery store garlic is treated to prevent it from sprouting or how it was stored, plus it’s only one type, again, the whole point is to expand your garlic palate.
Garlic originated from central Asia thousands of years ago in climates that are very close to Colorado. With fall planting we’re giving the cloves a full 8 to 9 months to grow and develop into nice, good sized bulbs. There’s nothing more satisfying to a gardener than fall planting garlic as the icing on the entire planting season.
Garlic is in the allium genus, same as onions. There are two subgroups of garlic, commonly called hardneck and softneck. You’ll want to plant some of both. Hardnecks will send up an attractive flower stock which is called a scape next spring (I’ll talk more about scapes in a later posting). Hardnecks have outstanding flavor, and highly recommended for making salad dressings and pressed fresh over vegetables. They are also delicious when baked or eaten raw for health benefits. Hardneck bulbs have fewer cloves and are easy to peel (much appreciated by gourmets including yourself). Hardnecks have a much shorter shelf life than softnecks, ranging from 3 to 6 months or so after curing.
Softnecks do not flower, which makes them better for braiding. Softnecks have a longer storage than hardnecks, up to 9 or 10 months (this is the type you find in grocery stores). Softnecks can be mild in taste or have quite a bite. Just as hardneck you will be able to taste the differences the more you grow. There are many cloves on softneck bulbs, so when planting use the largest cloves. Save the smaller ones for cooking or plant them in a pot indoors and grow them like onion chives (snip off the greens to use in dishes). The largest cloves will produce the biggest bulbs.
When shopping for your bulbs, keep in mind that there are several variety options in both the hardneck and softneck groups. I’ll expand on which ones I like and why in another blog posting. But what you plant this year can be planted again next year, so you don’t have to purchase planting stock each and every year unless you want to try new varieties.
I plant in raised beds in a sunny location. Sun is important. You can plant cloves in part shade right now, just as long as after the winter solstice the area starts getting more sun, then full sun by the June or July harvest. You can tuck them through the landscape if you have good soil, sun and no competition from other plant roots. Just remember where they are planted so you can water them through the winter if moisture is scarce.
My soil is loose and well amended. They won’t grow in heavy clay or icky soil. I add a balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10 a few weeks before planting. Garlic isn’t a high nitrogen feeder, but it does need nitrogen. Too little nitrogen may produce yellow plants, less vigor and smaller bulbs.
Gather your materials prior to planting - bulbs, planting labels, trowel, and mulch. Remember that one bulb will grow from one clove so plan accordingly.
I place the cloves on top of the soil spaced 4 to 6 inches apart with the rows 10 or 12 inches apart. Plant 2-3 inches deep. I take my trowel and create the planting hole, often the soil is so workable that I can just push it down into the soil. Be sure to label each row or group. OR you can dig a 3-inch trench and place the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart, then cover with soil.
Check back with me through the winter as I discuss more growing garlic tips. Next spring I cover will how to harvest, cure and store garlic.
"Shallots are for babies; Onions are for men; Garlic is for heroes."