Garlic is a member of the allium family, which includes leeks, shallots and onions. There many different varieties of garlic, all of which fall into three general categories: Softneck, Hardneck and Elephant. Softneck garlic is the kind you will generally find in the grocery store. The two common types of softneck garlic are artichoke and silverskin. Artichoke garlic generally stores well and has a mild flavor, such as Inchelium Red and Early Italian Purple. Silverskin includes Silver Rose (warm flavor), Italian Late (very aromatic with robust flavor) and Nootka Rose (very strong flavor). Softneck garlics have a flexible stalk which can be braided.
Hardneck garlics also have a stalk –called a scape- which coils at the top. If left to mature, hardnecks will produce a flower which is actually a number of small bubils, or tiny bulbs, which are edible. Hardnecks dry to a hard stem, hence the name. The most common Hardneck garlic is rocambole. As a group, they have a deeper, richer flavor than softnecks do, but they don’t store as well. Select German Red or Spanish Roja for long lasting, strong flavor.
Elephant garlic is the largest garlic. It is also the mildest and sweetest. It is easy to peel and has a long shelf life.
Garlic is typically planted in late September and early October. Start with a good, quality bulb. Garlic purchased in grocery stores is often treated with sprout inhibitors, disrupting the growth cycle.
Break the bulb, called “cracking” into individual cloves. Each clove will produce its own plant, containing 6-8 cloves per bulb. Garlic likes sun and well-drained soils, so incorporate a good soil amendment such as Sheep, Peat and Compost into your planting. This organic soil is produced locally. Add some Bone Meal to the planting site, to encourage rooting. Garlic is a very friendly plant and grows well planted with other flowers and vegetables in the garden as well as in the perennial bed. Plant each clove about 2” deep, pointy end up and spaced about 6” apart.
Like other spring flowering bulbs, garlic planted now will set roots and start to grow. As the soil temperature cools down, growth stops. As soil temperatures increase in the spring, the bulb begins its growth cycle. Garlic can be mulched in early winter, after the ground freezes. The mulch will hold in moisture and keep the ground stable.
Softneck garlic planted now will usually be ready for harvest around July 4th. Dig softnecks when the leaves turn brown. Hardnecks will mature a little later in the season. Hardnecks are ready to dig when the scapes become straight.