Garlic rewards beginner gardeners with an abundant crop. Flavor varies widely by variety.
SEASON: Garlic is harvested in spring and summer, but it also stores well. Fresh garlic should be available year-round.
CHOOSING: Fresh, sweet garlic is plump, firm, and heavy. If the papery covering pushes in, the cloves have shrunken. Avoid garlic heads that have green shoots.
STORING: Garlic will remain plump and usable on your countertop for a couple of months, but if you put it in your refrigerator, it will wait patiently for up to seven months for you to grab it and make a good recipe great.
GROWING: Garlic is easy to grow, and late summer into fall is the best time to plant. There are three types: softneck garlic (stores well, best for Southern gardens, easy to braid), hardneck garlic (does not store as well as softneck, best for Northern gardens, diversity of flavors), and elephant garlic (actually a leek, milder tasting, huge cloves). There are many varieties of softneck and hardneck garlic.
You can buy heads of specific varieties from seed companies or purchase garlic for planting from a local farmers’ market and at the grocery store. Be aware that garlic in supermarkets is sometimes chemically treated to reduce sprouting, which isn’t ideal for planting, and it might not be best suited for your climate. It’s also worth exploring the differences in spiciness and color among the varieties available for the home garden.
Prepare a sunny, well-drained garden bed that has been enriched with compost or other organic matter. Remove the papery covering, and break apart the head of garlic just before planting, setting the cloves 1 1⁄2 inches deep with the pointed end up. They should be spaced 6 inches apart. (Elephant garlic needs more space, so plant about 4 to 5 inches deep and 12 inches apart.)
In late spring or early summer, if you see your plant send up a flower stalk, snip it off but also enjoy its garlicky flavor in stir-fry. When the leaves start yellowing and there are about four green leaves remaining, carefully dig up the head. If the papery covering is intact and the head is well filled out, it’s time to harvest.