Ah, garlic. "The flavor is… well, there's nothing like it on earth," says Ree Drummond, who uses it in her home cooking all the time.
Whether you love your garlic freshly roasted, dressing up chicken wings or French fries, or pureed for a jar of homemade pesto, you should be growing this key kitchen ingredient at home. Unlike some fruits and vegetables, which require a dutiful care—we're looking at you, tomatoes—garlic pretty much grows itself. Like spring-flowering bulbs, you'll plant garlic in the fall for a harvest next summer. It's truly one of the best vegetables to grow because digging rodents tend to leave garlic alone and it doesn't require you to water it for months, feed it constantly, or hover over it like an anxious parent. Garlic just grows!
There are two different types of garlic: softneck, which has a flexible stem and keeps for many months (it's also the kind you can braid together), and hardneck, which has a stiff stem but you can also harvest the scape, the long curling stems that appear in late spring to early summer. This allows the plant to put all its energy into producing a larger bulb. Plus, the scapes are considered a gourmet treat with a mild garlicky flavor that works well in stir fry, frittatas, or pasta dishes.
It's also smart to order your seed garlic early; although it may be available at local big box retailers in late summer, you'll find the best quality garlic online. Order as soon as you remember to do it; most sellers will send it at the appropriate planting time in your region. Avoid planting garlic from grocery store, which may have been treated so that it will not sprout. Then get your garlic in the ground about a month before the ground freezes in your area.
Here's everything else you need to know about how to grow garlic.
Garlic needs full sun.
Don’t try to plant garlic in shade; it needs 6 or more hours per day of direct sunlight. Because this crop takes a long time to mature and you won't harvest until next summer, plant it somewhere that it won't be disturbed, such as the edge of the garden. Unlike some veggies, such as peppers, that don't mind being planted in pots, garlic isn't a huge fan of growing in large containers and won't get very big. It does best when planted in garden beds.
Plant the individual cloves.
When you're ready to plant, separate the cloves from the head of garlic, but leave the papery covering on them intact. Dig holes about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart, then place a clove in each hole, pointy-side up. Cover it with soil, pat it down. Shoots may emerge in fall, but don't worry about them (they're just testing the waters). Next spring, they'll pop up again, and you can feed then when a balanced fertilizer, if you like. Then, just watch your plants grow!
When should I harvest my garlic?
If you plant a hardneck garlic variety, the curling scapes will appear in early summer. Cut them off above the top leaf and enjoy! Don’t leave them on the plant because they’ll put energy into flowering instead of creating a nice, big bulb.
Harvest the garlic bulbs when the foliage begins to turn brown and fall over. Use a hand trowel to lift up underneath the bulb, and shake off the dirt. Use a rubber band or bit of string to tie them together, then hang the bundle to cure for a few weeks in a dry place out of direct sunlight. This helps it store for a longer period of time. Once they bulbs and stems look and feel very dry, cut back the stems so they're an inch long. Alternately, for softneck types, you can braid the stems while still green and hang to dry. This is an attractive and practical storage technique that looks fabulous in your kitchen!
How should I store my garlic?
Never store garlic in the fridge because the cold stimulates it to sprout, shortening its lifespan. Instead, store the bulbs hanging or in a mesh bag in a cool, dry place like the pantry. If you accidentally nicked any bulbs when digging, use those right away because they won't last long. You also can save a few bulbs for next year's garden, if you can bear not to eat them.