More Thoughts on Garlic

Homegrown Neighbor here:
So Mrs. Homegrown’s post the other day about their not so successful garlic season this year inspired me to weigh in with some of my own garlic observations.

I recall having a conversation with Mr. Homegrown around the time we both planted our garlic in November. I selected three heirloom varieties to grow at a job site and I plopped a few extra cloves into my own garden. Mr. Homegrown said, “You can’t grow hardneck garlic here.” I of course had purchased only hardneck varieties. Now, we have garden debates like this all the time. Sometimes I am right and often I am completely wrong. I replied that we would wait and see. I hoped my hardneck garlic varieties wouldn’t be a total failure.

He planted white softneck garlic, the popular commercial variety here in California. I planted Music, Pskem River and Bogatyr garlic at my work site and Pskem River also in my home garden. All three varieties have done simply okay at my work site. However, the Pskem River garlic in my home garden is big and beautiful. Hardneck garlic produces scapes. The picture above is of the scapes I have removed from my plants in order to encourage them to produce bigger bulbs. Now I am going to stop watering the garlic and hope to harvest it in a couple of weeks. It is best to stop watering garlic at least two weeks prior to harvest to help the papery skins to form. This will also improve its storage quality.

Since I live a block away from the Root Simple compound, I’m quite sure weather isn’t the issue. Also, as my other garlic plants at a job site have shown lackluster growth I think I can draw a few conclusions. First, garlic likes fertile soil with plenty of nutrients. My home garden bed with the garlic in it has been amended with a lot of rich compost including worm castings and chicken manure. The native soil in the area also isn’t too bad. The pH is pretty neutral to slightly alkaline. Its a little heavy on the clay side but clay holds nutrients well and with all of the organic matter added the drainage is pretty decent. So I’m confident the robust garlic has been growing in healthy, rich soil.

My work garden site has less fertile soil that I am constantly trying to improve. So I’d guess that the garlic that has been slowly plugging along there is suffering due to the soil.

How it is watered can also affect how well garlic grows. Garlic likes even, regular watering during its growth cycle. My past experiences with garlic have certainly taught me that if they don’t get regular water they will stay puny.

And as to the softneck versus hardneck garlic debate I can say conclusively that hardneck garlic will indeed grow and thrive here in a Mediterranean climate. Garlic is usually planted here in November and harvested in June or July. So its growth cycle avoids the most intensely hot months. Softneck garlic stores better and this is why it is so popular and almost all commercially available garlic is softneck. Supposedly softneck varieties do better in warmer climates and hardnecks do better in colder climates. However, while we are not growing in Minnesota, nor are we growing in the hot and humid tropics. Our climate is very forgiving.

I can’t wait to harvest my garlic heads in a few weeks. I’ll post some pictures after the harvest.

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  1. Scapes? The little tissue thing comes off and there are lovely flowers, right? I have asked and searched the internet for what scapes looked like because I knew I had to cut them off. I have four blossomed scapes in my yard. Is it too late to cut them off and still have garlic? They fully bloomed about two weeks ago–little tissue top came off. Is it okay to plant garlic in pots? If so, what size pot? If it is too late, I will just leave the flowers. Is it too late to plant garlic in N AL? It has been in the high 90s for days. I have some grocery store garlic that sprouted that I want to plant.

  2. We’re growing hardneck garlic for the first time, and I also can’t wait to harvest them. I’m so curious as to how the bulbs look. I’m hoping for a decent size!

  3. those tops produce tiny garlic bulbs, little larger than a grain of rice—awesome in cooking…mix w/cream cheese, etc..

  4. Even if you don’t cut of the scapes (flower buds) you will still get good garlic. I read somewhere that cutting off the scapes when the buds first form makes the plant put more energy into the bulb. But we grew garlic on a farm I worked at and let the flowers fully form. Indeed the tiny garlic bulbs are delicious as Carolyn says. I recall putting them in all sorts of dishes, especially pasta.

  5. I took a bulb from the CSA basket last year and planted the cloves before the last frost. I’m now at the point where the green tops are huge and the scapes are about to curl. I’m having trouble deciding on whether or not to let one form a bulbil. I definitely want more, but it’ll take a good amount of time to get those tiny cloves to a good producing size.

    Still, they’re the first thing I ever planted (it’s now been a year since moving) and I’m thrilled that it worked out. But the true test will be when I dig them up. Fingers crossed!

  6. Hey there – I have been growing garlic in Minnesota for about 7 years now and grow hardneck exclusivly. Whether you leave the scapes on or take them off, you will get great garlic. For me the jury is still out on whether removing them makes for a bigger head of finished garlic. I have also heard that by leaving the scape on promotes a longer shelf life for hardneck garlic. If you allow the scapes to stay on, you can propogate garlic from the bulbils. It will take a few years to grow it up, and requires a bit of patience, but it is a easy and cheap way to get new varieties. Currently I grow about 8 varieties and have about 300 heads that will be harvested in about a month and a half. Sorry for ramblings, but I hope it is helpful! Cheers!

  7. Thanks for the information. I have had these same plants for about 12 years and have never dug them up. The flowers wave so prettily that I would hate to have to decide whether to have garlic or flowers. Maybe I will dig one up tomorrow and see what is going on.

  8. I’m in San Bernardino, grew lots of Music this year-just harvested it yesterday and it looks lovely, some of the bulbs were almost as big as my hand!

  9. i grew soft neck and elephant garlic I purchased at the grocery store in november in connecticut it is doing fantastic with huge and many leaves and 18 inches to 2 feet tall and its only June first 2012

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