OUT OF SEASON - BACK IN LATE SUMMER 2013
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Garlic requires no extraordinary "special care". It thrives in cold climates and the best flavor varieties even require harsh treatment from Mother Nature to be great. You plant it in the fall (October, November) and literally forget about it until early spring. It will magically pop out of the ground during one of those "fake spring" spells in February or March. The small tops will then be subjected to more abuse - laid flat by the next snow storm or frost - but it will bounce right back and be big and healthy by April - fully able and willing to withstand all the forces that Mother Nature sometimes uses to "test" us as gardeners.
You have to plant it in full sun. Your soil should be worked/tilled - the finer the better, but it doesn't have to be perfect! The winter will dissolve your clods eventually - I've seen great crops come from cloddy soils with plenty of vegetative "trash" present at planting (like after a corn crop). Don't plant in the same ground you grew garlic in last year.
First, break (split) your planting bulbs up into individual cloves being careful not to bruise them by squishing or breaking the skins - don't let a lot of time go by before you actually plant the cloves - a day or two at most. Cull (and keep for eating) any cloves that are very small or damaged. Very important rule: BIG CLOVES MAKE BIG GARLIC!
Insert the cloves into the ground - don't just jam them in!... use your fingers to protect the clove as you "place" it at a depth where it will be covered by about 2 inches of dirt when finished. Pat down the soil on top. Plant the cloves 4 inches apart.
HARDNECK varieties of garlic are the more dramatic with fewer but much larger cloves. They have less of an outer bulb wrapper which makes them more sensitive and reduces their shelf life. As they grow they produce a stalk that coils from the top called a "scape" or garlic flower. Scapes can be harvested and used in cooking on their own before the garlic itself is actually harvested. They are very pungent and a little goes a long way.
SOFTNECK varieties are those most commonly found in supermarkets and have the botanical name of allium sativum var. sativum. The reason that you would see these varieties more frequently is that they have a much longer shelf life than the hardneck varieties, they are easier to grow and the beautiful garlic braids are made out of these varieties. You can recognize the softneck varieties by the papery white skin and the abundance of cloves, often forming several layers around the central core.
If you find yourself in a supermarket and are curious about whether the garlic you see is a hardneck or softneck variety, feel the top of the whole head. If there is no hard stick in the center you have a softneck variety.
Each variety has its own flavor and cloves from the same head, planted in different places can taste markedly different. Both types can be roasted successfully and although interesting to talk about there is really no need to worry about a particular variety for any recipe you might like to try.
Fresh Garlic should feel very firm when pressed with your fingers. Try to avoid buying any garlic that is at all soft or is showing any signs of sprouting. You can store garlic in any cool dark place but please do not put it in the refrigerator because it is too cold and moist and we do not recommend ever trying to freeze garlic.