Posted in Gardening, Horticulture

How I grew garlic in zone 5b (2017)

INTRODUCTION    One of my favorite experiments this season was growing garlic for the first time. As I was first researching how garlic is grown, I learned that there are two varieties of garlic: hardneck and softneck. One key difference is that hardneck garlic produces a flower stalk in the center of the bulb (called a scape) but softneck garlic does not. Additionally, hardneck varieties require cold winters but softneck varieties may perform best in milder climates. I decided to try both types here in zone 5b. In the end, both types produced well and resulted in about 8 pounds of bulbs from the original single pound I planted. Here’s how I did it:

“Inchelium Red” softneck garlic immediately after harvest on June 28, 2017

METHODS    I started with a half pound of “Inchelium Red” softneck garlic and a half pound of “Chesnok Red” hardneck garlic. In November 2016, I prepared two 32×40” areas (one for each type) in my full-sun, 12” raised beds. Before planting, I amended the garden soil very well with homemade compost and didn’t otherwise fertilize. I planted the cloves pretty close at 3-6” apart. I topped the beds with about 3 inches of grass and straw mulch and watered regularly until winter set in. Little green sprouts popped up well before January and I let them be. Nature took care of most of the watering during spring but I occasionally helped out. I carefully harvested all the bulbs on June 28th, when the softneck variety was still mostly green but had yellowing tips and was falling over. At this point, the hardneck garlic was yellowing and the scapes had been harvested. I never applied any preventative pesticides or disease remedies. I dried them for 3 weeks on a large wire rack in the cool, shady garage with a box fan to circulate air. At this point (July 15th), I trimmed off the roots and tops of the hardneck variety and opened up a bulb to taste. I trimmed the roots of the softneck garlic and returned it to the wire rack to continue drying. The tops still seemed to be holding moisture and I worry they’d get moldy if I tried to braid them at this point.

“Chesnok Red” hardneck garlic on April 23, 2017
The “Inchelium Red” softneck garlic growing strong on May 3, 2017

RESULTS    All of the garlic plants grew very well. Their tops grew green and strong. They didn’t suffer from any disease or pests but many of them looked like they’d be small. They varied in size from 1-3 inches.

The original half-pound of hardneck garlic produced 41 bulbs (totaling 4.2 pounds) and 41 delicious scapes. The garlic scapes started forming in late May. I harvested several on June 4th before they got long and curled around on themselves and saved the rest for June 25th. I gently pulled the scapes until they popped out. They stayed fresh and crunchy in a mug of water for well over a week. I’ve heard they can last several weeks but I used them too quickly to find out. We enjoyed them sautéed and roasted with other vegetables. They have a perfectly mild, fresh flavor. The raw garlic clove had a very strong, lingering flavor when I tried it on July 17 and it was great cooked in a vegetable dish. The bulb wasn’t quite dried out completely so I’m keeping them stored in an area with good ventilation.

A mug full of fresh garlic scapes from “Chesnok Red” hardneck garlic (June 25, 2017)
Beautiful coloring on “Chesnok Red” hardneck garlic after cleaning and trimming (July 16, 2017)

The original half-pound (approximately 5 or 6 bulbs) of softneck garlic produced 32 bulbs. I braided them for storage so I didn’t get an accurate weight but I estimate it was about 4 pounds.

I don’t know how to french braid so it’s no surprise this softneck garlic braid looks ridiculous. 
“Inchelium Red” softneck garlic has been drying for several weeks so I trimmed it up for storage.

NEXT SEASON    I am definitely going to plant garlic again this autumn and I’ll be planting significantly more of it. I will likely only plant hardneck varieties because I can’t stop thinking about how amazing garlic scapes are. I’ll save the largest bulbs that I harvested this season to plant for next season’s crop.  I’ll likely purchase another half-pound (or more) of a new variety to try. I’m going to give the plants significantly more space next time to see if bulb size (and yield) improves!


Environmental biologist and wannabe homesteader.

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