Great Garlic Cultivars

Make the most of this foundational culinary ingredient by planting and harvesting more than once a year.

| September/October 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/licvin

Downright obsessed: That’s the best way to describe those who love and grow garlic (Allium sativum). Aside from chili peppers, few crops have such a following. Its fans attend garlic festivals, celebrate the annual harvest, and share recipes that maximize what makes garlic so addictive. Of course, its not without its haters. Nevertheless, garlic has a long and storied history punctuated with myriad uses, both medicinal and culinary. To harness these uses, first get familiar with the plant itself, and then choose your favorite cultivars to plant, grow, and harvest at home.

The Beginnings of Garlic

As a garden plant, garlic is surprisingly easy to grow and highly productive. It has the added benefit of growing when many beds lie fallow, as garlic cloves are planted in autumn but not harvested until early to midsummer. Garlic cultivars can grow soon after being planted in the autumn, although some wait until the beginning of spring. Garlic is also a stately plant in the garden, as every phase of its growth is attractive. Garlic scapes — or flower buds — must be removed before blooming, but are beautiful as they begin to appear in early summer. They have several uses in the kitchen, and make a fresh summer treat.

Photo by Adobe Stock/JackF

You can find dozens of garlic cultivars suited for growing at home. Seed purveyors catalog their garlic cultivars by type — hardneck and softneck — and usually include the backstory of each cultivar, which is often as interesting as that of any heirloom tomato. The most difficult thing for gardeners to remember is exactly when to order garlic, because it’s shipped during their brief dormant period in late summer through early autumn, just before the ideal time for gardeners to sow. Upon arrival or purchase, open the boxes immediately and separate the cloves from the main bulb by carefully peeling each clove away from the central stalk just prior to planting.

Plenty of Garlic to Go Around

Garlic cultivars fall into two main groups: hardneck (A. sativum var. ophioscorodon) and softneck (A. sativum var. sativum). “Neck” refers to the central stem standing at the end of the season. Softneck types (or braiding garlic) allow you to braid the garlic, and are the most common type of garlic found in supermarkets. Softneck garlic doesn’t have a large central stem. Hardneck types (Rocambole or top-setting garlic) form a hard stem, and are popular with collectors and growers who believe these types have a stronger flavor, store better, and produce cloves that are easier to peel. Hardnecks still have their woody central stem, so peeling the cloves away from the stalk is easier. Each is worth growing if you’ve never grown garlic, as the crops are immensely useful in the kitchen, and it’s fun to have a variety of different types of garlic to experiment with.

1/30/2020 5:16:12 AM

This is really explicit. Was planning on cultivating garlics. Thanks for this.

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