I’ve loved fresh, homegrown garlic ever since I first tasted it back in the 1970s. The grandmother of one of my girlfriends had a nice little backyard garden where she grew garlic, among other things, and she would share some of her fresh, new garlic with me. Back then I liked to make garlic butter with the freshly dug stuff and slather it all over a slice of bread. Come to think of it, I still like to do that!
These days, I grow my own garlic. And since we like garlic so much here at Happy Acres, I’ve come up with some strategies to make sure we have an ample supply year round. My plan must be working, because for the last few years we haven’t had to buy any garlic from the grocery. And we’ve had a lot of tasty homegrown garlic.
My first strategy is to plant garlic that matures at different times, including both early and late varieties. Many of the Asiatic/Turban types are early maturing. Chinese Pink is one widely available variety that is one of the first ones ready for us. Maiskij and Red Janice were ready this year even before Chinese Pink. These are all hardneck garlics which come with the added bonus of producing edible garlic scapes. You can read more about how I plant garlic in this article, and this one.
But the downside of these early, hardneck garlics is they don’t keep as long as the softneck types. So it makes sense to use them first. I like to use them for dehydrating and pickling, as well as for cooking and eating fresh. Pickling mellows the taste of even the hottest of garlics, while dehydrating concentrates the flavor and some of the heat. I’ll talk more about preserving garlic in later posts.
My next strategy is to plant later maturing, long keeping varieties. The best keeper I’ve grown so far is Nootka Rose. It’s an heirloom softneck from Washington State that has great flavor, and produces well for us. Many of the bulbs from last year’s harvest are still good, almost a full year after they were dug. It’s also widely available.
Other long keeping softneck varieties I grow include Lorz Italian and Silver White. Lorz Italian is an artichoke type that has a great flavor, and has made it to the Slow Foods Ark of Taste list. Silver White that is a silverskin type that does well here. Many supermarket garlics are good keeping softneck types, but they may or may not do well in your area. So far I have stuck with named varieties I have gotten from garlic growers and suppliers.
Many of the hardneck porcelain types also store quite well. They usually have four to six large cloves per bulb, which makes them a joy in the kitchen. Music is a popular and high yielding porcelain garlic from Italy that is widely available. Romanian Red and Georgian Crystal are two more porcelains that do well for us here. With the porcelain garlics you get the best of both worlds – the great flavor of a hardneck and the keeping qualities of the softnecks.
My last strategy is to plant some garlic for harvesting super early as green garlic. Green garlic can be any garlic variety that is harvested early, before the bulb has formed. Green garlic is to mature garlic what a green onion or scallion is to a mature onion. Trimmed up and ready for use, green garlic actually looks a lot like a scallion. But the taste and aroma are all garlic. Both the white and green parts can be used.
The usual way to grow green garlic is to plant it in the ground more closely together than usual – say 2 or 3 inches apart. It’s a great use for any small cloves you might have at planting time. It can also be grown in containers, if you’re cramped for garden space. For more about growing green garlic, you can read about it here.
I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to have homegrown garlic all the time. Growing garlic is really pretty easy, once you know how to go about it. And if you aren’t growing garlic already, I hope this article has inspired you to start growing it.