Saturday, September 09, 2006

9/9/06 Garden Journal How To: Growing Hardneck Garlic

I can do better than this—but it's gonna cost me.

Realization Of The Day:
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever spend $77.00 on five pounds of garlic.

But of course this is no ordinary garlic. This is Extra Special Super Duper Fancy Schmancy Punishment Garlic. Because if you somehow never get around to planting your garlic one fall, when summer shows up you will be hit full force by the frightening result of your laziness—there is not only no garlic to eat, but there isn't any to plant the following autumn either.

If you've been saving and planting your own garlic for ten years (and improving it along the way), this is a really big bummer. Then there's the shock to your already distressed gardener's system that comes when you start shopping around for replacement stock, knowing that you will need about 200 cloves. Garlic prices are high. Very high.

So if you just cannot bear to fork over $17 a pound (plus several more dollars a pound for shipping), the only alternative is to buy some very nice tasting organic garlic from the natural foods store and plant that. Which is what I did last fall. And the photo above is what I ended up with. Actually, this is what I ended up with. I know it doesn't look all that bad, but compared to what I was expecting, my Gardening On The Cheap way out was a dismal failure.

Part of the reason is because I had been growing hard-necked (Rocambole) garlic, and most commercial garlic sold (including what I planted) is the soft-necked type. Rocambole garlic produces larger cloves, and the clove covering tends to more easily come free from the clove, making it much more fun to deal with in the kitchen.

Hard-necked garlic also sends up flower stocks in the spring that will steal energy away from the growing bulbs if you don't snip them off. Once snipped, they become garlic scapes, which seem to be all the rage with foodies and food bloggers these days.
 Who knew? For years I tossed them around the garden as a natural pest deterrent or fed them to the chickens.

While some people claim that garlic scapes have a pleasant, very mild garlic flavor, I've found the opposite to be true. My homegrown garlic scapes are strong and fiery—and I love the taste of garlic. Even the donkeys don't like them. On the other hand, spring green garlic, another chic item these days, is wonderful, especially when cooked in some butter and tossed with pasta.

Now that it's almost time to plant garlic again, I figured I'd better stop ignoring the "Hunt down some reasonably priced but superb planting garlic" note that has been on my Never Ending To Do List since, oh, late last spring. One thing I quickly discovered while doing a little online research is that by now many suppliers have been sold out of garlic for months. Oops.

Not to fear, though. Sometimes even lazy, scatterbrained gardeners are given the gift of Being There At The Right Time (and being coherent enough to realize it). For me, 'there' was at my computer this morning when the September e-newsletter from Johhny's Selected Seeds in Maine arrived. And the coherent part was when I remembered that I'd been meaning to see what kinds of garlic Johnny's had to offer and immediately opened up the newsletter.

After reading that some varieties have indeed already sold out, and that the rest typically will, too, I followed Chairman Rob Johnston Jr.'s advice to "get your garlic plans settled and your order to us ASAP." I hopped right over to their website and managed to nab five pounds of organically grown German Extra-Hardy Garlic, which I was thrilled to learn is their "easiest garlic to grow." This is what else Johnny's has to say about it:

Among the most winter-hardy garlic varieties. Very large bulbs with 4-5 large cloves. The outside skin is very white and the skin covering the cloves is dark red. The New York farmer who grows this stock for Johnny's says, 'Out of over 200 sources of garlic that I have had in my trials over the past 15 years, I believe that this is the finest garlic that I have had on the farm.' A vigorous-growing garlic with long roots, which gives it the ability to winter over without heaving out of the ground. Flavor is very good and stores well.

Sold! I readily forked over my credit card number. Okay, I hemmed and hawed and dawdled around for an hour or two before finally explaining my dilemma to Joe, who immediately told me to "Get back online and buy some before they run out!"

Realization #2:
Today's realization is also a rationalization. I finally convinced myself that this seemingly outrageous outlay of cash for a few pounds of garlic really is worth it—because you'll never end up with the best if you start out with anything less.

And if you figure that this is hopefully the last garlic I will ever have to buy again in my life, it's definitely a worthwhile investment. Now all I have to do is make sure I never, ever forget to plant garlic in the fall again—but I have a feeling that won't happen anytime in the near future.

I'm just happy that I finally took the great garlic plunge—and even managed to find some wonderful sounding organically grown garlic for less than $17 a pound plus shipping. (Although I did find one possible explanation for why gourmet garlic prices are so high. Click here and scroll down to "How Did All These Garlics Get Here?")

Now while I obviously will not be able to report on how this garlic performed in my garden until next year, I can say that I have purchased all kinds of seeds from Johnny's over the years and have never been disappointed. They're a reputable company offering quality products that all come with 100% satisfaction guarantee. They are also in the process of becoming employee owned.

If you're interested in planting some really good garlic this year, you might give Johnny's a try. You can purchase as little as 3 heads at a time, and other varieties are still available. If you live in a warmer climate, you'll want to plant a soft-necked variety, as Rocambole garlic requires a cold winter and a cool spring. You can also call Johnny's toll-free number (found on the website) for help deciding what variety would do best in your garden. Each garlic clove that you plant will (hopefully) turn into one head of garlic. When figuring out how much garlic you'll need to buy, don't forget to add in enough to save and plant next year.

Another place to look for interesting garlic to plant is at your local farmer's market. You may be able to find several varieties, and if you can't decide which one(s) you'd like to grow, you could buy a few heads and have yourself a little taste test. Another advantage to purchasing locally grown garlic is that it should do well in your climate. And of course you can always ask the farmer for growing and planting tips!

For information on everything from preparing your soil for planting to harvesting and curing your garlic, visit this page on the Gourmet Garlic Gardens website. And click here for a close-up look at 21 different cultivars of garlic.

Minding The Moonsigns:
I usually plant my garlic in October, on a fertile day in the 3rd quarter, though last year I didn't get it into the ground until the end of November. As long as the ground isn't frozen, late planting isn't a problem.

Here are the upcoming "good" days to plant if you're minding the moonsigns. First and 2nd quarter days are best for starting seeds. Third quarter days are best for transplanting and starting things that grow underground such as garlic and potatoes and turnips. Some people treat the 4th quarter the same as the 3rd, and others consider it a bad time to do anything but weed and mulch. (Click here to learn more about this.)

--3rd Quarter Fertile Days: Monday September 11th & Tuesday September 12th
--4th Quarter Fertile Days: Saturday September 16th
--1st Quarter Fertile Days: Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday September 25th, 26th & 27th
--2nd Quarter Fertile Days: Monday October 2nd, Thursday October 5th, & Friday October 6th
--3rd Quarter Fertile Days: Monday October 9th & Tuesday October 10th
--4th Quarter Fertile Days: Saturday October 14th, Friday October 20th & Saturday )ctober 21st
--1st Quarter Fertile Days: Monday October 23rd, Tuesday October 24th, & Saturday October 28th



  1. Thanks, Farmgirl,

    I hope very much to hear everything goes well with this year's garlic. Thanks also for this valuable parable. I agree strongly that it always costs more (in more than money) when you "start out with anything less."

  2. Susan - Whatever happened to the "green garlic" you planted earlier? Mine just sorta "went away". Disappeared into the ground, I guess. I never got to harvest a single one. Did you?

  3. Thanks for the reminder to get planting garlic and the info on the two kinds (which I remember you talked about once before but I had kind of forgotten about!)

  4. Hi Susan.. Believe it or not, I discovered your site by doing a search for Native wild plums!! It was so interesting I put it in favorites for great reading. I've been planting garlic for about 9 years. Only outlaying $$ when we want to try a new variety. We are softneck folks. But here in the pacific N.W. you can grow any variety you like. I like soft because they braid. I found the key to really good garlic, is getting your bed prepaired really well. We have clay soil, and have to add enormus quanities of compost, and added garden soil to get a good bed. Garlic dosnt care to grow in adobe. Be careful and don't get carried away. two years ago we did and planted 196 cloves equaling 196 heads of garlic. The Neighbors ran when they saw me comming...Best of luck with yours. OH by the way... any idea how to pick the green beans from the top of my Too Tall green bean teepee?????

  5. Hi, Susan: You've inspired me to start my own blog. :) My immediate question is: What is your reasoning for growing softneck garlic in warmer climates? I'm on the coast in Central California.

  6. So, since we live in a hot climate, does that mean I can just plant cheapie soft-necked garlic from the grocery store? I'm on it. Although it doesn't make scapes, which I learned to love when I was living in Minnesota. There is always a tradeoff, I guess!

  7. Farmgirl,
    We just harvested our tomatoes (green ones because the husband don't want to build a makeshift hothouse--yes, it had turn so chilly since early August), so we let it ripen inside a box. Yesterday we ate those ripe, orangey tasty tomatoes. I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lengthy explanation about tomatoes and pruning the leaves. We are off to the far East for a year, and hopefully we would be able to garden there, too :). Thank you again.

    With warm regards,

  8. Hello Farmgirl,
    how much I love this post of yours! Many great info! I'm happy to try growing garlic since I often eat them. Thank you!


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