Growing Garlic & Alliums
Two things made me interested in growing my own garlic. The first was trying lots of varieties at the farmer's market and realizing different types of garlic could be really different. The second thing that made me interested in growing my own garlic was learning I could overwinter it where I live, which not only made it virtually no-care, but took advantage of a time when the garden had tons of room in it.
I also grow some ornamental alliums (the plant family that garlic belongs to) and am going to try a very funky variety called "hair" alliums.
The Garlic Experiment
If there was one thing I really loved at the Farmer's Market this past summer, it was trying lots of different types of garlic. At the supermarket, garlic is just "garlic" and you have no idea where it comes from. When you look at garlic production, 75% is in China and 2% is in the USA, so switching to locally-grown garlic is a good idea.
What I learned sampling garlics is that I like a hotter garlic than I might have initially guessed. Buying from local growers, most of my garlics came with a variety name and the farmer could describe the qualities and suggest ways of cooking. I learned I like to eat hotter garlic than I would have guessed initially. One variety I tried had fantastic flavor, but I found the teeny, purple cloves had a thick layer of skins and were a pain to peel. Some garlics have double layers of cloves, some make flatter cloves and elephant garlic only seems good for roasting when you're having a dinner party and can feed the huge things to a group.
Since garlic overwinters, there's more room in the garden for it and you don't have to contend with insects pests hardly at all. In fact, by its very nature, garlic wards off a lot of insects all by itself, so it can be a good companion plant to other veggies. One of my garden books said that garlic can sometimes make peas, beans and other legumes unhappy, so I picked a spot in the garden away from where those things will be planted next spring.
For my first experimental growing, I got organic varieties at the Farmer's Market to plant. All you have to do is break up the heads and plant the individual cloves.
The Garlic Grower's Bible
The author of this book has grown something like 400 different variations of garlic on his farm over the years, which pretty much beats out everyone else for experience and advice.
Soft-neck vs Hard-neck
Most of what you'll buy in the supermarket is "soft-neck" garlic. It's got lots of papery layers of skin on it, called parchment, has a longer storage life (some types can store for a year) and can be made in braided plaits.
For those of you who like a hotter garlic, you'll want to try growing "hard-neck" garlic. The central stem is more like a stick and the parchment on the cloves are thinner and easier to peel. It can be kept in storage for several months.
Here are some great web sites that offer info on how to grow your own garlic, including a few that address specialized growing needs in different parts of the U
- Growing Garlic
Many people grow garlic themselves - it's easy and fun, even if you're not usually much of a gardener. You also get to the reward of eating your home-grown garlic crop!
- Planting, Growing & Harvesting Garlic
Tips on growing garlic - soil preparation, green manure, when to plant, planting, removing the garlic scapes, bulbils, watering, havesting, managing pests and diseases.
- growing garlic
There are two main kinds of garlic. The first is 'Common garlic', which is the usual white skinned supermarket type plus the silverskin types generally used for braiding and available at farmers markets; and 'Hard neck garlic', which is much less com
- Garlic Growing Instructions for Warm Winter Areas
Tips for growing garlic if you live in the South, California and Texas.
When To Plant Garlic
Planting garlic is most often done in the fall season. Depending on where you live, this can be anywhere from October to December. The most important factor is that it's best to get garlic in the ground a few weeks before the first frost so that it can start to root and get established before that first cold snap. The cold is actually part of what triggers garlic to start making cloves so if you wish to overwinter your garlic, don't plant too late!
Alliums are the plant family that includes garlic, onions and leeks. In fact, those huge elephant garlic cloves are actually a type of leek.
There are edible and decorative allium types. We've already got two other types of alliums in our garden. One is chives which a lot of people grow. They are very tiny and mild in flavor compared to garlic and onions and grow very easily in pots.
I also have a variety called "society garlic" and it's an ornamental. A friend gave me a small shoot of it years ago and it's grown from that one sprig of leaves into a little cluster of bulbs in a pot. The purple flowers it makes aren't a tight ball like other ornamentals, and looks more like a spray of flowers. It doesn't flower until later summer and early fall.
I have a brand-new ornamental vareity that I'm going to grow in a pot called "hair allium." (that's what is shown in the picture here) These are a mutation of regular alliums and the flower they make are a purple center with very twisted green "hairs" coming off it in every direction. I've heard them called "totally ugly," "weird," "space alien flowers" and "like a Dr. Suess plant" and fell in love with them immediately when I saw a picture at the flower bulb sellers booth at the Farmer's Market in late September. I got eight bulbs for $5 and I really hope they are as weird as other web sites say.
Garlic Gardening Videos
I went with the winter garlic plan as I've got a small backyard and growing space is at a premium. Since garlic can withstand the cold of winter, it made much more sense to grow it then as opposed to over the summer.
My garlic went into the ground in early October. And that was pretty much all I saw of it until about March. Then the garlic tops, called "scapes," stared to appear. The picture you see here is one of the more robust plants, photographed in early April.
I'll let it keep growing until sometime in June. When the flowers start to appear, I'll snip them off so that the plant directs all of it's energy into making the bulbs.
Garlic Scapes - Did you know you can eat the tops of garlic too?
If you are growing hardneck garlic, like I am, there's a second yummy, edible part of the plant for you to use. The young tops of this type of garlic is called a "scape." By cutting this part off before it turns into a flower, you divert more of the plant's energy down to the growing bulbs which increases yield. And you get to eat the part you cut off.
You want to make sure to cut the garlic scapes off BEFORE they straighten out, as they get bitter and/or will blossom into a flower. Once they've gotten nice and curly, they are mature enough to eat and young enough to still be tender.
Most often they are cooked in with stir-fry dishes but they are also suitable for making pesto. This is my first year harvesting scapes so I'll link up some recipes once I figure out what I like best.
If you've grown garlic, please let me know if you have any tips or tricks that helped. If you're like me and just starting, let me know how it's going with you. And if you've got any other comments or questions, those are welcome too!