Mark Anderson
Owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden

Pesto, pizza, pasta, tomato — they all have a common companion ingredient garlic. Garlic is one of the most commonly used plants for cooking, and a must have for any garden. Originating in central Asia, these delicious bulbs have spiced up foods since the dawn of cooking. Garlic is easy to grow in a garden or even in a good-sized pot. They share the same family as onions, leeks, and shallots. If you haven’t had good, fresh garlic from your own garden, you are truly missing out on an amazing flavor.

Garlic is categorized into two groups hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck garlic keeps longer in storage and is commonly found in grocery stores. With layers of parchment-paper thin skin and two layers of smaller cloves, this kind is ideal for the home cook. The tops are easy to braid, making it for easy storage. Hard neck garlic tends to have a more consistent flavor but have a slightly shorter shelf life. They form long, firm stalks, called scapes, with 8-15 large cloves on the inside. My favorites are German Red, Musik, and Susan Delafield.

Garlic grows well in any type of soil, as long as it has good drainage, rich nutrients, and plenty of sun. It can be planted anytime from September to October, or at least four to six weeks before the ground freezes. To plant, dig holes about one to three inches deep and add a  slow-release fertilizer to the bottom of the holes. Break up the heads into individual cloves and plant them three to four inches apart. After planting, water with a root stimulator for quick establishment and root enhancement. In containers, follow the same rules for depth and spacing. Your quantity is only limited by the size of the pot.

The bulbs like the cold conditions of winter and will grow on their own without any extra attention until April or May. At this point, side dress the rows or just around the plant with a slow-release nitrogen. In the early spring, when the sprouts are first starting to grow, keep them moist. Allowing them to dry out will decrease yield in the summer. Moisten the soil every five to seven days at least 12 inches down. Around the first of July, when the tops start to die down and turn brown, stop watering. Too much water at this point will damage the bulb and could cause storage issues.

Don’t harvest too early as it can cause storage problems or leave them in the ground too long. With hard necks, the scapes that come up can be eaten like a scallion with a strong garlic flavor, so you can enjoy them earlier. Starting mid July through early August, the tops will start to turn yellow and fall over. However, the tops won’t completely dry out at this point. Once the tops have tipped completely over, carefully dig up the bulbs. Use a spade or a small gardening fork to dig underneath the soil and lift out the bulbs. Don’t pull from the top because that can damage the bulbs. It is possible to take garlic from the garden straight to your kitchen, but for maximum storage length, cure the bulbs for three or four weeks in a dry place. Take a few and tie the tops together, then hang them up in a well-ventilated place for at least a week. After they are cured, store them in a cool, dark, dry place with a good air flow.

You will be surprised at the variety of flavors and levels of different heat found in different varieties. Some are better for roasting, some better for cooking with other ingredients, and some keep longer than others. Take a chance, try something new, and discover how easy garlic is to grow, and how much fun it is to experiment with new flavors of an old-time favorite ingredient.