Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon).


There are 8 heads of garlic left from last summer’s crop. That’s approximately 64 cloves, if each head has 8 cloves. Most do, some large cloves and some smaller. They have to last until July when the new harvest will be ready. If need be, there’s always scapes to use by June.

Cloves are the smaller parts that cannot be divided further. Heads, or bulbs, as seen above, can be broken down into cloves. I call them heads because, to me, that seems less confusing than calling them bulbs. Heads vs. cloves I can conceptualize. Bulbs vs. cloves–seems like the same thing to me.

I’m excessively proud of my garlic. I first bought it at an organic fair in south Jersey 20 years or so ago. Wherever I lived, I planted part of the garlic the next year, even if I had to borrow a corner of garden space from someone–and pay them rent in garlic, of course. Only one year went by when I didn’t plant my garlic, but I kept the “seed crop,” or “clove crop,” I guess it could be called, and planted it the following year. It came up without fail.

I don’t know what variety the garlic is, but it is hardneck garlic because it has a stiff stalk and scapes. I’ll take photos of these when they appear.

I plant garlic in the fall. On Columbus Day, to be exact. October 12. Like onions, garlic needs loose, fertile soil and full sun. Also like onions, garlic cloves can be planted with a dibble, a round dowel with a 45° cut at the planting end. This is Eliot Coleman’s invention, which he describes in The Winter Harvest Handbook. Prepare the soil, adding compost; dibble the number of holes needed at the preferred spacing; plant one clove–the biggest and best, of course–in each dibble hole; rake gently and water.

Some root structure should form in the fall, but you don’t really want to see growth above ground. I mulch it with salt hay, or straw is fine too.

Since I have had raised beds, a number of years now, I have planted all the garlic in one 3′ by 3′ bed. That’s pretty compact planting–8 rows by 8 rows, so around 4″ apart. The garlic does well, but the heads grown around the outer area are larger than the heads grown in the inner area.

Last fall, I planted garlic cloves around the outer area of several beds, leaving the inner areas for other crops. According to Louise Riotte, in Carrots Love Tomatoes, garlic is good with tomatoes, but not peas. Riottte is the guru of companion planting, and her books have many commonsense tips. I like the idea of companion planting. I also like the idea of crop rotation. Sometimes, I just can’t fit all the good ideas into a small space.

Garlic will start to grow in early spring. Keep it well watered early on. Use compost as a side-dressing in early spring. A fish emulsion can be used as a foliar feed. I wrote about Neptune’s Harvest in the post Sweet peppers. Now I have two good reasons for ordering a fish emulsion–peppers and garlic. Three, if you count tomatoes.

After May, stop fertilizing. When the flowers, or scapes, appear, cut them off and either use them for cooking or put them in the compost pile. I like minced scapes in scrambled eggs. A little goes a long way.

When the garlic leaves start to turn yellow, stop watering so the heads won’t rot. When about half the leaves are yellow, it’s time to harvest. Garlic will not hold in the soil the way onions will. The heads start to degrade pretty rapidly once the leaves are dry.

Use a garden fork to dig them very carefully. Lay them out in a shady place to dry for several weeks–until the leaves rustle and fall off easily. Just as with my onions, since I don’t have a large crop, I lay them out during the day, and put them in paper shopping bags to bring in at night. Always keep the heads lower than the leaves as the nutrients from the leaves are being stored in the head. When the leaves are rustling dry, cut the stalk off to a manageable length. I store the garlic heads in paper shopping bags, as I do with onions. It works for me. And store them in the coolest part of the basement for use over the winter.

So, the best cloves must be saved for next year’s “seed crop” or “clove crop.” Over the years, some friends have come to expect a dozen heads or so of garlic each year, so that’s always fun. Then, the rest is mine to use. What a luxury to have my own garlic. It’s fresh. It’s organic. It’s juicy and pungent when first harvested, but dries over the months to a different texture and taste that’s good in its own right. A wonderful thing, growing garlic.

I look forward to taking photos and writing posts about garlic as the spring and summer progress.

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