Chances are you like to eat. Me too! I’m also assuming you buy garlic from the grocery store. I did too until I got a taste of the real McCoy. I’m not saying what you’re buying isn’t real garlic. It is, just not the kind of taste bud blowing garlic you’d have if you grew your own. So why limit yourself? Most grocery store garlic bulbs are softneck varieties from California or China. That’s a helluva lot of food miles! It’s what most Americans know.
But once you have a go with homegrown garlic, you’ll never go back. I promise you. And if I haven’t sold you already, what if I told you it’s probably the easiest crop to grow and autumn is prime planting time here in the Midwest!
Gather Your Garlic Growing Supplies
Here’s the deal. You really don’t need supplies other than garlic, and a sunny spot with good drainage to plant it. You do need to know the type of garlic to plant, and that comes down to knowing your climate and location. There are two sub-species of true garlic (Allium sativum), hardneck and softneck, that are broken down into groups and then broken down further into cultivars, of which there are approximately six hundred. I’m going to keep this simple because when you’re just getting started, there’s such a thing as too much info and then, of course, overwhelm. And we all know what happens when that takes over. You’re back to store-bought garlic.
Hardneck vs. Softneck
I’m in the south suburbs of Chicago, zone 5b, and that makes me a candidate for hardneck varieties. If your growing zone is 5 and under, you’re team Hardneck. Here’s the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map just in case you’re not sure where you fall. Hardneck comes from the hard central flower stalk, or garlic scape, that forms in late spring. Cutting the scape once it forms it’s signature curlicue forces the garlic plant to devote more energy into growing larger cloves. Since they’re only available for a brief time each spring, why waste them? Add them to anything in need of a mild garlic hint. Which, for me, includes everything except dessert.
If not removed, the scape forms a pouch of mini cloves, called bulbils, along the stem. While they look like mini cloves, planting them could take years to develop a decent bulb. We’re talking two to five and ain’t no one got time for that! Better to use them as you would a garlic clove, the only bonus is you don’t have to peel them.
Hardneck garlics tend to be more flavorful than softnecks and far more cold hardy which makes them great candidates for us cold climate gardeners. With proper care, even those is zone zero can grow garlic! The flavor profile tends to be broader in hardneck varieties, ranging from mildly sweet to hot and spicy. I’ve experimented with a variety of hardneck garlics including Metechi, Spanish Roja and Georgian Crystal, but I always return to Music. It’s robust, spicy with a touch of heat, yet not overpowering.
It’s so easy to grow and now’s the time to get your orders in for fall planting. I placed mine last week and discovered that my favorite variety was already out of stock with many online companies. My advice would be to order a bulb of a few different varieties. Just be sure to label each row either in the bed or in a hand drawn diagram. It’s easy to forget what went where when you plant in October and harvest the following July. That’s a long time!
Where to Buy Garlic Seed
If you’re just starting out, farmers markets, garden centers, catalogs and online suppliers are great places to look. For the more seasoned garlic grower, save the biggest cloves from your current harvest and plant them in mid October. It’s a great way to grow your stash and save a few pennies. Most companies take pre-orders and ship in early fall, which means the selection will be better if you order sooner than later.
Here are a few great places to order…
- Urban Farmer, Westfield, IN (I ordered from them this year.)
- Keene Garlic, Madison, WI
- Botanical Interests, Broomfield, CO
- Garlic Gods, Heyburn, ID
- Territorial Seed Company, Cottage Grove, OR
I usually plant around the middle of the month but have also had great success planting in late October. The goal is to plant it soon enough so the cloves can develop roots before the ground freezes, which around here doesn’t happen until late December/early January.
Once you receive your garlic, keep it in a cool, dry location. Avoid the fridge where the environment is too humid. Better to make room in a cupboard until you’re ready to plant. At which point you may ask yourself, “Ok Heather, now what.” Well, I got you.
Check out my Here She Grows YouTube channel below where I show you step by step how to get it done. And if you’re feeling really cheeky, hit the subscribe button and never miss a video.
Will you grow garlic this year? I hope so and do let me know in the comments which varieties you chose. I’d love to know!