Pump, juicy garlic cloves ready to be planted

Garlic goes with anything! In fall, sauteeing a minced clove with sweetened kale, chard or Brussels sprouts makes the ordinary sublime. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what happens to the last of the tomatoes when garlic is introduced into luscious sauces. Home-grown garlic is wonderfully intense, unlike the garlic you find in the grocery store.

Plant garlic now

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet, it’s time to get it in the ground for next year. It’s important to plant early enough in fall to give the bulbs plenty of time to develop a sturdy root system yet not so early that they put out leaves in fall. If they get a good start, they will send out healthy foliage the following spring and you will be harvesting garlic in mid to late summer.

Garlic and terroir

Garlic is known for its affinity to the soil (called terroir), meaning that if you can purchase garlic bulbs from a local source, you will usually have larger cloves right away. Ordering it from another region of the country means it may take two or three years of repeated planting before you begin to get large bulbs.

If you don’t have a local source, garlic bulbs are available at most garden centers and nurseries. Supermarket garlic is often treated with a sprouting inhibitor, which takes a long time to wear off and can slow growth.

Hardneck and softneck garlic

Hardneck garlic

I’ve always had the best production from hard neck types of garlic and, although this type doesn’t keep quite as well as soft neck, the flavor is more intense. Hard neck garlic sends up a tall stalk in the middle of the leaves in early June. The stalks are topped with curly seed heads called scapes, which should be pinched out to allow the plants to put more energy back into the bulbs. The scapes are edible and can be used in any way you normally use garlic cloves. Soft neck garlic has no central stalk and will keep for six to nine months if properly cured.

Spanish Roja garlic, one of the tastiest

How to plant

It’s hard to give them up to the garden, but I save the biggest cloves from this year’s crop for planting next year’s garlic. Prepare the garden bed with a fresh covering of compost and dig a trench about two to three inches deep. Soybean meal is a good slow-release fertilizer that can be sprinkled in the trench (make sure it’s from non-GMO soybeans if you are growing organically). If you have rich soil, this is not necessary. Put the blunt end down, about three to four inches apart in rows about a foot apart. Water in well and cover with three to four inches of straw or leaf mulch to keep the weeds away and the ground moist. If your garlic sprouts in fall, don’t worry. It will go dormant and then start up again in spring.