The Magic of Growing Garlic

September through October marks the perfect time of year for garlic planting! As the warm days of September wane, and we bid farewell to summer, it’s time to make space for some overwintering crops in our gardens. If you’re lucky enough to be gardening in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, then growing your own garlic is an excellent choice. Not only is it an easy crop to cultivate, but the varieties available at the nursery are far superior to the ones found in stores.

The Categorization of Garlic

Garlic can be categorized into two main groups: hardneck and softneck. Each variety is assigned to one of these groups based on various characteristics, such as the length of storage, number of cloves per head, and flavor components. Softneck garlic, for instance, is known for its excellent storability, while hardneck garlic boasts larger and more flavorful cloves that are easier to peel.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is a great option for those looking to maximize their harvest. These varieties yield more per area planted and have 10-40 cloves per head. They can be stored for an impressive 9-12 months after harvest, making them an excellent choice for long-term storage. Additionally, their soft necks (stems) make them perfect for braiding, adding a touch of elegance to your kitchen.

One incredible member of the softneck group is the Silverskin garlic. It is renowned for being the longest-storing garlic variety, with a unique spicy and sulfurous flavor. Harvested in mid to late July, each head consists of 12-24 cloves, with an average of 60-75 cloves per pound. Other notable varieties include the Italian Late organic, Nootka Rose organic, and Silver Rose organic, each offering distinct flavors and characteristics.

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Artichoke Garlic

The Artichoke group is the most commonly planted garlic worldwide and can often be found in grocery stores. Highly sought after for its mild flavor and high yield, this group features cloves that overlap each other like petals on an artichoke. With 8-20 cloves per head and a harvest time in mid-late June, it is a reliable choice for garlic lovers.

Two exceptional varieties within the Artichoke group are Early Italian Purple organic and Inchelium Red organic. The former attracts attention with its big heads and purple-striped wrappers, making it perfect for braiding. The latter, on the other hand, boasts not only the best flavor among softnecks but also impressively large heads that can reach up to 3 inches across.

Hardneck Garlic

For those seeking robust flavors and unique culinary experiences, hardneck garlic is the way to go. This group, with its 3-12 big cloves per head arranged in a ring around a hard central stem, presents a diverse range of strong and vibrant flavors that greatly enhance any dish. Additionally, hardneck garlic produces garlic scapes, which are the flower stems and buds that need to be removed. However, they can be incredibly delicious when grilled or sautéed.

Within the hardneck category, the Rocambole group stands out for its exceptional taste. These garlics have a low sulfur content, making them perfect for raw consumption. Their loose wrappers make peeling a breeze, but their shelf life is slightly shorter. Varieties such as German Red and Spanish Roja offer bold flavors and unique characteristics that will elevate any recipe.

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The Porcelain group of hardneck garlics also possesses a strong flavor profile, rivaling that of Rocamboles. Their tighter fitting skin allows for a longer storage potential of 6-9 months. Musik and German Porcelain are two remarkable members of this group, with the former boasting massive individual cloves and a lingering spicy taste, while the latter offers low heat, surprising storage capabilities, and either white or purple wrappers depending on the season.

Elephant Garlic

Despite its name, elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than traditional garlic. This impressive plant yields the most when planted in the fall, making it a fantastic choice for gardeners looking for a bountiful harvest. While it may lack the intensity of regular garlic, it still possesses a mild and delightful flavor. With 5-7 cloves per head and 8-14 cloves per pound, a single large head can weigh close to a pound, making it perfect for those seeking substantial cloves.

In conclusion, growing garlic is a rewarding and straightforward endeavor that can elevate your culinary experiences. Whether you choose softneck or hardneck varieties, or even try your hand at elephant garlic, the flavors and culinary possibilities are truly endless. So why settle for the bland garlic found in stores when you can grow your own robust and flavorful bulbs? Step into the world of garlic cultivation and embark on a flavorful journey that will leave you breathless.


If you’re interested in embarking on this garlic-growing adventure, be sure to visit the Ames Farm Center for all your garlic needs. They offer a wide selection of garlic varieties and expert advice to help you achieve a successful harvest. Happy planting!

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