By Mara Higdon
Ahhhhh… Garlic! Used around the world for both medicinal and culinary purposes, garlic is very simple to grow. There are two categories of garlic: hard and soft neck. The garlic you buy at the supermarket falls into the soft neck category. There are mild to strong flavored varieties that are enveloped in rose-to-purple-striped skins. All are enjoyable to grow and eat!
Soft Neck Garlic
Like I said, this is the most common variety you will find at the supermarket. Soft necks are often stored braided together due to their soft stems or neck. The heads consist of multiple small cloves covered with a thick parchment or skin. They can have a strong flavor, but vary depending on the variety. Soft necks do store well.
Hard Neck Garlic
The stem or neck of the garlic stalk is stiff or hard. Hard neck varieties of garlic are usually larger than soft neck varieties with a small number of large cloves per head (5-12). They also do not have the layers of parchment surrounding the cloves. This makes it much easier to work with when you are cooking. The skin slips right off. Hard necks send up a scape or a flowering stem that has a tendency to twist and turn. They really are quite pretty! These should be cut off to divert energy to building the garlic bulb below. But, don’t throw them away! The mild tasting scapes can be stir-fried or cooked like asparagus. They’re delicious! Hard necks will grow best in areas with cold winters and cool springs. They too store well.
Garlic Planting, Care and Harvesting
Garlic should be planted after the first frost in the fall. You use the individual cloves to plant. Start out with the more robust and stout cloves for best results. Plant each clove with the pointed side up about one inch in the ground, four to six inches apart in soil amended with compost. I generally water them in and leave them alone until the spring. Come spring, weed the garlic bed with care as the shoots begin to grow. If there is a dry spell in the spring I water as needed and may add a small layer of leaf mulch if necessary. If you decide to grow the hard neck variety remove the scapes as they develop. When the foliage begins to brown in early-mid June, stop watering your garlic. You want them to begin drying out before you harvest them so they will dry and store properly. Harvest the garlic when the foliage is completely brown. I like to use a digging fork to loosen the soil. Store either type in a cool dry place until you want to use it.
To Eat Garlic
Cut off ½ of the pointed end of an entire head of garlic. Drizzle olive oil over the cut end and wrap in foil. Put it in a 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes or until the cloves feel soft when pressed. Squeeze an individual clove onto a cracker or a slice of tomato and voila! Delicious!
Here are some Garlic varieties to try:
- Soft Neck: Inchelium, Silver Rose, Silver White
- Hard Neck: German Red, Purple Glazer, Spanish Roja
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.