Posted on: March 19, 2020 | Written By: Doug Oster |
The garlic greens are pushing through a thick layer of straw. Beneath the bulbs are starting to form. There’s a short period in spring when the the center bud is thick and tasty. Eventually it will turn into a long leaf, like the side shoots.
This small bud is the first of five harvests garlic growers enjoy. Reach down into the center of the plant to pinch the little green; it’s best before it has started to get bigger than a few inches.
The garlic flavor is there, but it’s different than the bulb, as there isn’t the traditional heat or zing.
Every season I get a few, but then things get busy quick and before you know it, the opportunity has passed.
Garlic is usually planted in the fall, but that ship has sailed. The hardest part of spring planting is finding the right garlic. It should come from a nursery or local farm, not the grocery store. Garlic there might be treated with an anti-sprouting agent. The reason the cloves are planted in the fall is that they need cold weather for a period of at least a month, which forces the bulb to split into cloves. Some growers will trick spring garlic, by putting it in the fridge for a month or so and then plant. Split the head into cloves, plant them three inches deep and six inches apart. They would like a blanket of mulch too, I use straw. If you can’t find spring garlic locally, here’s one source online.
Hardneck varieties will then send up a seed head called a scape. It’s also a delicacy for the kitchen. The scapes need to be removed so that the plant concentrates on making big bulbs. They can be used in many recipes, and my favorite is turning them into pesto. You can see that recipe and my favorites for garlic here.
Leave some of the scapes in the garden. Even though they are no longer attached to the plant, there’s enough energy in the stalk for the seed heads to swell and form small bulbils. They are tiny clones of the actual bulb. If planted, they would form a full-sized bulb, but it would take years. They are best snacked on in the garden as each forms a tough skin that needs to be peeled before eating. That’s too time consuming for the kitchen, in my opinion.
Some garlic growers also grow softneck varieties, which are sometimes smaller bulbs, but often times store better than the hardneck cultivars.
Harvesting a few heads early results in a smaller bulb but one which is juicy with its own garlic oil.
The final harvest, which is the bulbs themselves, happens in mid-summer when more than 50 percent of the foliage fades to brown.
The bulbs can either be gently pulled from the ground or helped along with a garden fork.
They need to be cured for three weeks by hanging in a warm dry place. They will store longer if the stems are left attached.
Store them in an onion bag in a cool dry place, and many times they will last all winter.
Garlic growers get more bang for the buck than people who are just buying heads of garlic in the grocery store. Like anything in the garden, it’s always going to taste better than what’s in the market.
Video: Harvesting garlic scapes.