The Island Garden
Garlic is relatively easy to grow: Simply push a clove into the soil this month and mulch over it. Some shoots will come up this year as the clove establishes itself. Keep the area mulched over and next spring look for the new shoots.
Types of garlic
Garlic is divided into two main categories, hard neck and soft neck. Then in each category you get into the purple, red, silverskin and rocambole types. Silverskin is the garlic you buy in stores. In general, it is a moderately mild garlic with a long storage life, which makes it appealing to stores.
I prefer the red or purple types, which can be a little hotter and more flavorful. The rocambole types have a relatively short shelf life but are the best tasting for use as raw garlic in dressings. My own preference is for the rocambole Italian red or German purple type of garlic. I also grow a Russian red or Polish hardneck type for longer storage. My problem is that by the time the garlic is ready for harvest, the labels have blown away and I am no longer sure what I’m harvesting. But I get a lot.
You will need to decide where to buy your heads of garlic. There are a ton of places online and most charge between $7 and $18 per pound. I have found that po tatogarden.com (formerly Ronnigers) has a wide selection and reasonable prices. You can also go to any garden center, since most will have garlic on sale. A pound of garlic will plant an area about 4-by-4 feet with cloves on 4-inch centers and will yield about 50 to 60 heads of garlic – enough for a real garlic festival.
Next decide where to plant it. The area should be weed-free and have rich soil high in nitrogen and phosphates. Break each head of garlic into individual cloves and plant each clove. It is said that you will get larger heads of garlic if you plant larger cloves.
You can plant in a row or, as I do, in a square. Space the garlic about 4 inches apart. When planting, put the fat end down with the point up. Now cover the area with grass clippings or chopped leaves as mulch and forgetaboutit.
Next spring you will see green shoots coming up around the middle of May. If you wish, you can harvest these green shoots. They are known as green garlic and they can be used in any garlic dish. I find that it is best to plant the small center cloves of garlic separately to the larger, outer cloves, and harvest the small clove shoots as green garlic. This gives me fresh garlic early in spring when most store-bought heads are dry from storage.
Just let your garlic grow until it sends up a flower head or scape. Only hard-neck types of garlic will send up a scape. I cut the scapes off to get a larger head, but you can leave them until they set bulbils (little garlic seed heads) and use the seed heads just as you would use garlic. You can also use the scapes in cooking. They are slightly milder than a clove of regular garlic.
When the scapes dry and the garlic begins to look yellow or light brown, it is time to harvest. This will usually occur in midto late June. Harvest your gar- lic and let it dry for four to six weeks in a sheltered place with low humidity. If humidity is high you will see brown or grey spots on the cloves and they will eventually turn to mush. If you don’t want to dry your garlic, one way to avoid the humidity problem is to peel it and store peeled cloves in the freezer. Simply pull out a clove when you need it.
If you have dried your garlic properly, it will last four to six months. The last few cloves may be a little dry, but hey, you grew it yourself, so you can eat it yourself.
Armed with your fresh harvest, you will be able to make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, or garlic soup, or add fresh garlic to your salad dressing. Some people even eat garlic cloves raw to ward off colds. (I figured out how that works. Nobody comes near you after you have eaten a clove of garlic, so you will never get a cold from contact with another person!) Remember to add parsley to the same salad. Parsley is reputed to take away garlic breath. If you do get garlic breath, feed garlic to your friends, then everybody will have garlic breath.