The Garlic – A Little History and Some Growing Instructions
GARLIC, which is a member of the same group of plants as the ONION, has been cultivated for millennia. As a cultivated plant, it is so old that it is difficult to credit a country of origin for this vegetable. Some historians believe that the onion was indigenous to the southwest of Siberia and spread to southern Europe where it became naturalized. It is widely grown in all the Mediterranean countries.
All modern garlic belongs to one of two subspecies: hardneck (ophioscorodon) or softneck (sativum). Hardneck subspecies try to produce flower stalks with small aerial cloves called bulbils. Hardnecks will not produce large bulbs underground unless the flower stalks are removed. There are three varieties of hardneck garlic: Purple Striped, Porcelain and Rocambole. Softnecks have lost the ability, for the most part, to produce a flower stalk. However, under certain climatic situations, the bulbs may try to produce a flower stalk known as bolting. There are three varieties of softneck garlic: Artichoke, Silverskin and Creole.
Elephant garlic is not a true garlic. It is a leek that produces very large cloves, 3-4 per bulb. When allowed to, it produces a large seedstalk that can be sold to florists. The tender, fleshy lower portion of the seedstalk is prized for Oriental dishes. The cloves of the elephant garlic are very mild when compared to real garlic. The vegetable, when baked, makes an excellent side dish.
Rocambole garlic is the most popular of the hardneck varieties. They have a deeper, more full-bodied flavor than softnecks and produce large cloves that are easily peeled. Their loose skins are also their biggest disadvantage because the loose skins contribute to a shorter storage life. Rocamboles harvested in summer or fall do not usually last past January. The Rocambole is the only variety whose leaves form tight loops of 1-3 coils shortly after the leaf stalks appear. Eventually the leaves straighten and lose their coils. There are 6-11 cloves per bulb. One pound of seed garlic will yield approximately 60 plants.
Purple Stripe garlic has bright purple streaks or blotches on both the bulb wrappers and the clove skins. This garlic is extremely flavorful and is outstanding when baked. The bulbs store longer than Rocamboles and are generally easy to peel. There are 8-12 cloves per bulb. One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 60 plants.
Porcelain garlic has very large cloves that are covered in satiny white bulb wrappers. They are not well known in North America, but are growing in popularity because they are nearly the size of elephant garlic, but they are much more flavorful. They store longer than Rocamboles. There are only 4-6 cloves per bulb. One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 40 plants.
Artichoke garlic is named for its overlapping cloves that resemble an artichoke. Artichoke garlic bulbs can have as many as 3-5 overlapping clove layers. The plants are very vigorous and large bulbed. The flavor is mild, and this is often the garlic chosen for eating raw. Artichoke garlic is an excellent storer. The bulbs contain 12-20 cloves. One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 80 plants.
Silverskin garlic is the type most frequently found in grocery stores because it is a very long storer. This garlic is the highest yielder and will do well in a variety of climates: hot, maritime and cold northern. The bulbs contain 12-20 cloves. One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 90 plants.
Creole garlic is actually a silverskin subvariety, but a very popular one. Genetically, this variety is a softneck, but it behaves like a hardneck. Creoles have solid purple cloves which are sweet tasting and long storing, but they will not do well in northern climates like zones 1-5. Zone 6 is even questionable. However, our garlic producer has been trying to acclimatize some Creole garlics for years, and they now feel that they have some Creole garlics which will produce large bulbs in the Zone 5-6 winters. The bulbs contain 12-20 cloves. One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 80 plants.
Elephant garlic is actually a leek. For a true garlic lover, the cloves are tasteless, but for most of us the cloves would be described as having a mild flavor. Each bulb contains 3-4 cloves. One pound of seed garlic produces approximately 20 plants.
Garlic is usually planted in October in the north and from November through January in the south. It is important to note that garlic should be planted 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes in order to establish good root growth before winter. If winters are long and temperatures are extreme, then softnecks should be planted in the spring.
Garlic bulbs planted in the fall go through a short, approximately 2-week dormant period, and then roots emerge and leaves sprout. With the onset of winter, the leaves die back and the roots cease to grow. This process is called vernalization. Proper bulbing is a function of adequate growth, vernalization and subsequent growth under longer days. Bulbs planted in the spring must experience some minimal cold treatment in order to insure proper bulbing.
Garlic can be grown in many different types of soil, but the plants prefer a rich moist sandy soil. Turn the soil and add some lime before planting. Break the bulbs apart into individual cloves and plant, root end down, two inches deep, with four inches between cloves in rows twelve inches apart. Mulch immediately. In the spring, apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer and water like any garden green. By summer ease up on the watering. The hardnecks will send up a flower stalk in early June. Approximately one week after the stalk begins to turn woody, starts to uncoil and begins to stand up straight, cut the stalk off ½ inch above the top plant leaf. This will redirect the plant’s energy into bulb production.
When harvest time is approaching, the plants will begin to dry from the bottom leaves up and from the leaf tips inward, one leaf at a time. The plants should be harvested when approximately 40% of the leaves are still green. Bundle in groups of 5-10 and hang inside, out of direct sunlight and where there is good air circulation. Never leave freshly dug bulbs in direct sunlight. The bulbs cure in 3-4 weeks. The bulbs are cured when the neck can be cut one-half inch above the bulb without any evidence of moisture.
Garlics are best stored in netted onion bags at room temperature. Temperatures of 34-44 degrees will induce sprouting. Temperatures in the 30’s are tolerable for table garlic, but planting stock should not be stored long at cold temperatures. Humidity in the 60%-70% is preferable. Rocamboles and Purple Stripes will store for approximately 6 months. Porcelains and Artichokes will store for approximately 8-10 months. Silverskins and Creoles will store for a full year.