Green Patch: Gardening with Garlic

Grow garlic year-round even in the dead of winter.

| October/November 1999

Question: This summer, I bought some freshly ­harvested garlic at a local farm stand. What a treat! It was so much better than what I get at the supermarket. Now I want to grow garlic myself. How should I proceed? 

Answer: Garlic (Allium sativum) is an easy, reliable crop that can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to grow it year after year, and you’ll never buy garlic at the grocery again.

Moreover, by growing your own garlic, you can enjoy kinds that you’d never find in the store—dozens of varieties selected for outstanding flavor, easy peeling, or good keeping quality. These varieties belong to two main types: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlics produce a head with five to ten cloves arranged around a stiff central stalk, whereas softneck garlics produce six to eighteen cloves around a soft center stem that’s pliable and easy to braid. Most commercially grown garlic is the softneck type.

Elephant garlic (A. ampeloprasum) is a related species that produces an apple-sized head of giant, mild-tasting cloves.

How to Plant it

Garlic isn’t grown from seeds; instead, you plant the cloves. In future years you’ll be able to save and replant your own stock, but you need some cloves to start with. Order them right away as garlic is usually shipped in October for fall planting. Or go back to the farm stand to buy more locally grown garlic and plant that. As a last resort, you can plant garlic from the supermarket, but it may not grow as vigorously.

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