Garlic is one of the favorite items that I use in preparing food: raw, roasted, or sautéed! Going through the supermarket it is hard to find local, let alone organically grown garlic. Most of the supply comes in from China, Mexico or other places from far distances; yet, garlic is well suited to grow right here! There is certainly a demand for locally grown garlic, and most other farmers I know have a hard time growing enough for their market tables, or for planting stock for people that want to grow their own.
Garlic varieties fall into one of two basic categories: hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck varieties are best for warm climates, while hard-neck is the garlic of choice for northern garlic farmers. Soft-neck garlic stores and travels better than hard-neck garlic. It also has a stronger flavor and generally speaking, larger cloves. China produces 75% of the garlic in the world, according to the FAO. The most famous garlic we supply includes normal white and pure white garlic of Shandong, Henan, and Pizhou, high mountain organic purple garlic, and single clove garlic of Yunnan. Black garlic is garlic that has been naturally fermented to bring out powerful antioxidants while removing all of the smell and odor! It has a sweet and sour flavor much like a fruit and a wonderful texture reminiscent of jelly. Black Garlic contains much more SOD (Superoxide Dismutase, an important antioxidant) than regular garlic. Black garlic melts in your mouth, with a wonderful texture similar to sweet and sour jelly.
Normally, garlic is grown by taking a mature bulb, separating the differentiated cloves within the bulb, and planting each clove about 4 to 6 inches apart in a well prepared, fertile garden bed in the fall (usually October). Some bulbs only produce 4 to 6 cloves, so many of the garlic plants that are grown need to be saved and replanted to have enough for next year’s crop. Soil-borne diseases can become a problem since planting stock generally comes from other plants that have been in contact with the soil.
There are two main types of garlic: hard neck (Allium sativum ophioscordon) and softneck (Allium sativum sativum).
Hard neck types produce a flower stock (often called the ‘scape’) from the plant that most growers remove so that energy goes into producing a larger, heavier bulb. However, if you let the flower stock continue to grow and mature, it produces tiny seed-like ‘bulbils’; clones of the parent plant that can be planted and grown out to be full-sized bulbs. Depending on the variety of hard neck garlic, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years (or potentially longer!) to obtain a full-sized garlic bulb from planting bulbils. Some are very tiny, around the size of a grain of rice, and some are larger, around the size of a pinky-fingernail.
Garlic growing is easy in the home garden. Maintaining top quality requires care and attention. Weeding is important as garlic does not like competition. Watering and not watering, harvesting on time, and curing properly are all important for producing bulbs with good keeping qualities.