Garlic Obsession: How to Grow and Harvest Garlic

| April/May 2004

  • David Cavagnaro

  • Karen Shelton

  • Jerry Pavia
  • To experience garlic’s many colors and flavors, you must try different varieties, such as this ‘Spanish Roja’ --- I grow garlic because I love it and eat it every single day. This year I had to add another bed because I didn’t have enough room for all 17 varieties. When I harvest the garlic in July, it generally only gets me through to the New Year. Then I run out of homegrown and have to buy it for use in the kitchen. My goal is to grow enough so I don’t have to buy any. I love the way garlic grows and looks, and being able to harvest green garlic in the early spring — it makes me feel both humble and rich at the same time. —Susan Belsinger
    David Cavagnaro
  • Freshly harvested ‘Italian Pink’ garlic is full of color and flavor.
    Susan Belsinger

  • David Cavagnaro

• Try our recipe for Roasted Garlic 

Our obsession as gardeners and knowledge seekers continually draws us to totally immerse ourselves in a plant genus. This time, it’s a culinary favorite we can’t live without: garlic (Allium sativum). We found ourselves so enthralled with the history, lore and growing information of this alluring, time-tested herb that we began growing different species and cultivars. We hope you’ll find the information from our garlic expedition a satisfying, inspiring adjunct to gardening with garlic.

Variety, the Spice of Life

In pursuit of information about garlic, we found many informative websites and books (please see our bookshelf for some). We purchased a variety of different garlics from Bob Anderson of Gourmet Garlic Gardens, asking him for a range of mild to hot, both soft-neck and hard-neck types. Our plans were to grow them in two different regions — Susan in her home garden in Brookeville, Maryland, and Tina Marie in the Kitchen Garden at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas.

We began our in-depth study of our newly acquired alliums with enthusiasm, thrilled by their exotic names, such as ‘Shantung Purple Turban’, ‘Burgundy Creole’, ‘Spanish Roja’ and ‘Siberian Marbled’, which conjured up cuisines from around the globe.  First, we examined the vast differences in appearance and color of the bulbs, from creamy white to yellow tan, pink, rose and purple striped. Cloves per head ranged from five to 15.

We decided to do a tasting as described by Chester Aaron in his book Garlic is Life (Ten Speed Press, 1996). So we prepared 10 plates, one for each variety of garlic. On each plate we had a roasted clove of that particular variety, bread that we rubbed bruschetta-style with a raw piece of that variety, and a raw clove to taste. We arranged them in order of the mildest to the most pungent, according to the grower’s description. We made a form to record details of each type of garlic, starting with appearance, aroma and taste of the cloves roasted, rubbed on bread and raw.

Shades, Sizes and Flavors, Oh My!

The purple-veined ‘Persian Star’ had 12 medium-sized cloves with a sweet, mild smell. The roasted clove had a slightly grainy texture in the mouth with a mildly sweet, starchy taste. The bruschetta was the mildest we tasted, actually rather delicate, and the raw clove had no burn, with a sweet light flavor of garlic and a raw vegetable crunch. This is a garlic for the meek — a very mild-mannered allium indeed.

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