A Guide to Garlic Planting
Though fall is just starting, we're already looking ahead to next summer's crop of garlic. Autumn is the perfect time to plant garlic, which takes nearly a year to mature for a late summer harvest. Read on for a few of our favorite varieties -- sourced from Pennsylvania's Enon Valley Garlic -- plus tips for planting, harvesting, and drying.
Garlic Varieties: There are three types of garlic: softneck, hardneck, and elephant. Softneck varieties are intensely flavored and high-yielding, but best suited to warmer climates. Winter-hardy hardnecks feature a milder flavor, but don't last as long in storage. In spite of its name, elephant garlic is actually a member of the leek family; however, these giant bulbs have the flavor and appearance of garlic. Our favorites include:
1. Elephant: Ideal for roasting, this exceptionally large variety offers a mild flavor that's perfect for stews, roasted veggies, and mashed potatoes.
2. Crimson: This hardneck variety features large, easy-to-peel heads with lots of mild cloves and a red-streaked wrapper.
3. German Extra Hardy: Large, vigorous, and easy to grow, this hardneck has a bold flavor and long storage time.
4. French Red: This pungent softneck offers a smooth flavor that's perfect for cooked and raw dishes alike.
5. Bogatyr: Native to Russia, this winter-loving hardneck features purple stripes and spicy, easy-to-peel cloves.
6. Nooka Rose: This beautiful softneck offers smooth skin tinted with blush pink, plus a long shelf life and rich, warm flavor.
Planting: To start, select garlic bulbs from a reputable grower -- supermarket garlic may be chemically treated, or introduce diseases into your garden. Garlic should be planted in late fall, four to six weeks before the ground freezes. Separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves a few days before planting, leaving the papery skin in place. To prepare your soil, add a generous layer of compost and aerate with a garden fork. Dig a trench in the soil with a triangular hoe, approximately 2-3" deep, and place the garlic cloves with the pointed end upright at the center of the trench, leaving 6" between cloves. Fill the trench with soil, label the rows, then cover generously with around 6" of hay or straw mulch. If any shoots emerge in the following weeks, move a bit of the mulch aside to let them grow.
Spring Maintenance: When the threat of frost has passed, remove the mulch from your garlic beds. If flower shoots emerge in spring, remove them to help increase bulb size. You can also harvest garlic scapes, being careful not to disturb the bulb. Weed as needed until harvest time.
Harvesting & Drying: To determine when your garlic is ready to harvest, look for changes in the tops -- your bulbs are ready when the tops begin to yellow and fall over, but before they're completely dry (late July or early August in Northern climates). Carefully tilt the bulbs out of the soil with a spade or fork, then brush away any excess dirt. Gather the plants in bundles of four to six, then hang upside down for two weeks in a dry, shaded location with good air circulation. The bulbs are cured when the wrapper is dried and papery, the roots are dry, and the root crown is hard. To store, remove any dirt and trim away the roots and leaves. Keep your garlic in a cool (40°F), dark, and dry location for best longevity -- and don't forget to save a few of your best bulbs for planting next year!
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Happy planting and harvesting, mine have already sprouted in the greenhouse!