Growing Garlic Right
Your garlic will cure and store better if it has adequate nutrition while growing. Mix plenty of well-rotted leaf mold, aged manure, compost or an organic 10-10-10 fertilizer into your soil before planting. Your soil should drain well – raised beds may be helpful for heavy clay – as garlic likes plenty of moisture but not wet feet. Always plant garlic in full sun.
Hardnecks or Softnecks?
Garlic offers two types of varieties – hardnecks or softnecks. Both must be cured before storage. Hardnecks send up a central flower stalk (scape) shortly before harvest that should be cut off for proper clove development. Softnecks just grow soft leaf stalks. Once cured, softnecks can be braided for long-term storage. Hardneck stalks and leaves should be cut off and the cloves stored in a single layer.
Most gardeners can grow either (or both) kinds of garlic. Hardnecks generally have stronger and more complex flavors. Here are some possible choices:
- Blanco Piacenza – Italian softneck, excellent for braiding.
- California Early – semi-early softneck, rich flavor.
- Carpathian – hardneck from Poland with a spicy flavor.
- Georgian Red – long-storing hardneck.
- Inchelium Red – softneck, flavor becomes more spicy with storage.
If you’ve planted hardneck garlic you must harvest both the scapes (immature flower stalks) and cloves. Cut the scapes after they develop a full curl and use as you would garlic cloves – they don’t need to be cured. Garlic cloves should be harvested about four weeks after scapes appear or when half the leaves have dried and turned brown. Both hardneck and softneck garlic must be cured.
Garlic needs several weeks to dry and cure. If you can expect a period of dry, warm weather, simply pull plants and hang by the stems in bunches of 10 to 12 in a warm, dry place with good air circulation. In wet weather, move the garlic indoors. Use a fan if necessary. Properly cured garlic will have completely dry stalks and a thin papery covering over the cloves.
Garlic actually begins to cure in the ground as the leaves die and transfer their energy to the cloves. Don’t water your garlic once this process starts, as the cloves may split or rot. For this reason, you should not cure garlic in the field as you can’t control moisture. In humid weather, large or tight bunches garlic may develop mold or rot.