If I had to pick ONE thing to grow it would be garlic. This is from the lady who buys fruit trees like they are shoes. But the benefits of garlic are many. Their spicy flavor complements many dishes, they store well, and they are easy to grow.
That’s right! Practically effortless!
I had a lot of great advice (and a few bulbs) from local people who have grown garlic for years. Garlic is planted here just before the first hard frosts, which is some time in October. The reason? If you plant too early, the garlic will think it has many nutrients available to it, and it will divide into many cloves before going dormant for the winter. This results in many smaller cloves instead of a few giant cloves. On the other hand, planting garlic too late means it will not have time to establish ANY root growth before going dormant in a cold, soggy bed. Fortunately it seems to be a wide window.
Garlic is in the allium family, and it likes high nitrogen soil with no weed competition. Our first year we made two makeshift beds out of wood panelling from the dump, about 3’x7′, and filled it with composted horse manure. We planted about 12 kinds of garlic and…ha, who am I kidding, you know I made a careful chart and keep it in a folder by year.
Garlic Planted 10/28/2015
Pennsylvania Dutch [hardneck] (4)
Chesnock Red [hardneck] (10)
Early Italian Purple [organic hardneck] (11)
Silver Rose [organic softneck] (13)
Magic [hardneck] (13)
Niki’s (may be Magic or Music) [hardneck] (3)
Georgian Crystal [hardneck] (10)
Uzbek [hardneck] (6)
Siberian [hardneck] (17)
Marolf (another local grower) [hardneck] (6)
Spanish Roja [hardneck] (11)
Nootka Rose [softneck] (8)
All of the garlic was divided into the two beds except the Nootka Rose, which was in one of the main raised beds. We covered the beds with a thick layer of straw. The beds are located at the back of the garden between the back row of fruit trees. Garlic and chives are supposed to help apple trees when they are planted together. The sulfur compounds from the garlic helps the plants fight off pests. And vampires.
In the spring, the garlic was the first thing to push up out of the snow! The straw had become matted down and some of the garlic couldn’t push through it, so we ended up carefully removing it and replacing it loosely around the new green spikes. All of the garlic had made it through the winter!
In early summer, we found that some of the garlic varieties liked our garden better than others. Entire types had died off. One section would be missing but be surrounded on either side by healthy stalks.
Garlic doesn’t like wet feet, so we watered infrequently, about every two weeks. The beds were in one of the shadier areas of the garden, which may have been a factor. The Nootka Rose bulbs that were in a watered raised bed eventually rotted at the neck one at a time. I wouldn’t recommend mixing garlic in with other plants unless they had the same water requirements.
In summer the hardneck garlic produced curling scapes, the most delicious vegetable on the planet. They taste like a crisp green bean that has been saturated with garlic flavor…not sharp, but every bite is perfectly garlicky. I like to saute them lightly and eat them in omelets, pasta, by themselves, or I’ve heard you can make an amazing pesto out of them.
At the end of July we were hadn’t watered our garlic for a long time, and we were wondering if it would ever die. When it is ready to harvest the bottom several leaves should be brown and dry. On August 14th we finally dug it all up!
Carefully labelled, of course. When else do you get to taste test this much garlic?
We let the garlic cure for about a month before hanging it in bunches in the garage. The best performers? In order: Georgian Crystal, Marolf, Magic, Niki, Uzbek, and Chesnock Red. The last two were much smaller, but I’ll give them another chance. We also planted a softneck type, Inchelium Red, which is common in Montana and Washington. So far the hardnecks have done the best in our garden, but a friend who lives down the road a few miles grows beautiful softnecks and braids them.
Softneck garlic is rumored to keep longer than hardneck garlic. Most of our garlic is still doing well at 6 months. If you want to preserve your garlic, try this incredible recipe from Hunter Angler Gatherer Cook, which makes what is essentially a jar of ready-to-go oven-roasted garlic. It might be everyone’s Christmas gifts next year.