"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Learning To Speak Garlic

A few bundles of garlic and bulbils tagged and tied waiting to be hung up to dry. Some will be used for food other for next year's crop.

One of the best things about writing on this blog is that it forces me to learn more about what I do through reading and closer observation so that I can post, hopefully, factual information. Thus my horizons are expanded and perhaps someone else out there learns a little with me. If I come across as knowledgeable in some of these posts, beware, a few years of gardening does not make for an expert. I am green, you could say a gardening infant struggling to grasp the many and varied concepts involved in this most challenging of tasks. There are other bloggers far more insightful than I, some having more experience, others are just plain smarter. Tenacity is my talent, and an insatiable drive to learn more about that which I love. So, with that in mind, here is what I think I might now know about MY garlic.

My ever present assistant displaying garlic ready to be harvested. Can you believe I used to be a dog person, what's happened to me?

We harvested a little less than 1/3 of our garlic today, roughly 200 bulbs. The majority get a little less sun due to overhanging trees and will not be ready for another week or two. Once approximately half of the leaves have turned brown and the scapes have straightened out it is time to pick garlic. At this point the underground bulb should be separated into cloves and have a firm skin wrapped about them. We harvested Nootka Rose, German Porcelain, and Chesnok Red, the latter two being hardneck varieties and all three new to our little garden. "Mike's hardneck garlic", having long forgotten the original name, and a few elephant garlic plants make up the remaining 2/3 left to be pulled.

This is a nice specimen reflecting bulb separation and a good storage skin

A bundle of Chesnok Red being set aside for next year's garlic

Normally I plant one type of garlic sometime in September and harvest and dry them in early to mid August, paying little attention to the subtle nuances associated with the plant. This year, due to the various types we are growing, I decided to learn more so that I could speak, if you will, garlic talk. I learned that basically there are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck both having different classifications.

Our three hardneck varieties are classified as rocambole, porcelain, and purple stripe. Rocambole garlic has a thinner skin, strong flavor, and the scape will often form a double loop. The porcelain type has a thick white skin, fewer larger cloves (ours contain 4 per bulb), stores well and also has a strong, sometimes hot flavor. Purple stripe garlic has striped colorful wrappers, milder flavor, and is supposed to be excellent for roasting. The hardneck varieties have a hard stem or neck and are known for their scapes and bulbils and have anywhere from 4-12 cloves per bulb.

Our softneck variety, Nootka Rose, does not normally (though two of them did) produce a seed head or bulbils. This silverskin garlic can be easily braided, has superior storage qualities, seems to have a much stronger flavor then its hardneck brethren, and produces many more cloves per bulb. Regardless of the information regarding storage, our original hardneck variety "Mike's" stored for a good 9 months last year. We planted the extras this spring and should be able to harvest them soon, they do not appear to be as large as the fall planted garlic though. One a side note, I did find the harvest of the softneck garlic to be a little annoying as the stems easily broke off and had to be carefully dug rather then easily pulled as the hardneck was.

Large bulbils formed on the head of one of "Mike's" garlic scapes

Small bulbils of the German Porcelain garlic

If allowed, the hardneck garlic will form pig tailed scapes that can be cut at an early tender stage and cooked for a delightful garlicky treat. We simply fry them with onions and morel mushrooms...ambrosia. If the scapes are left to further develop they produce bulbils of various sizes that can either be eaten or replanted in the fall or spring. These will produce a decent size clove in 2 or 3 years depending upon the bulbils size, we will be trying this with our garlic this year. Many an article states that if one cuts a garlic top before it develops into a scape the bulb will be larger, I have done this over the years and have yet to see a noticeable difference. This is perhaps due to good soil fertility, I'm really not sure.

A scape that is a little past its prime on a spring planted garlic

We will plant the best of these same cloves sometime in September depending upon the weather. In colder regions garlic is normally planted in the fall in order for the root to begin to develop, this helps the garlic get off to a good start the following spring. It's best to wait until just before planting to separate the cloves as this keeps the root bud from drying out allowing the garlic to set roots sooner.

Right now our garlic has been hung to dry or cure on our porch and will soon be joined by those that were left behind. This is where they will remain until we move them into baskets in a cool dry back room for winter storage, our garlic room's temperature is kept at around 40-45° most of the storage year. One of the nice things about heating solely with wood and pellets is that it removes much of the humidity from the air making for an excellent environment for the storage of garlic and squash.

The first batch of garlic curing on our porch

Well, in brief, that's what I have learned about my garlic thus far. In years to come I hope to become not only more proficient in the growing of garlic but knowledgeable in the various facets of home grown garlic production. The eventual goal being to develop a more consistent garlic bulb that not only keeps well but has larger, more pungent cloves for cooking.

The flower of an elephant garlic, not a true garlic but actually a type of leek


randi said...

Hey Mike,
In the world of garlic knowledge I'm entering kindergarten and you have your PhD. This is my first year harvesting garlic, and, considering the way things have been going, I'm damned grateful they are not mush. So for me this post is timely and one I'll be referring back to - you're part of my library kiddo! Thanks for all your research.

Silke said...

Hi Mike, that was an abundance of info on "your" garlic! Very helpful - I think we might try some garlic next year. We planted shallots for the first time this year and they are doing great. It's great to know that when I need to know something, I just have to search for it on your blog... Thank you for sharing all this!! :) Silke

Mr. H. said...

Hey Randi,

I started this post as personal note regarding what I had going on with my own garlic so that I could use it as a reference later. I decided to put it on blogger in order to share. Beleive me I do not have all that much kowledge on garlic...but I will.

Thanks so much for your comments, I'm glad your garlic did not turn to mush. Now I can sleep easy knowing we will both be safe from vampires.:)

Mr. H. said...


You must try it, garlic is fairly easy to grow it just takes patience. Guess what! We are also growing shallots for the first time in many years...I can't wait to try them. They are so expensive to buy, ours appear to be doing well also.

Silke said...

We ate our first shallot in a lima bean (also from our garden - so prolific) salad last night - excellent flavor!! Most of them aren't ready yet, but a couple of them were and yielded quite a number of bulbs! So much fun!! :) Silke

Susan said...

I grew (sort of) one garlic, just to test it out and I'm looking to future plantings. Thank you for the descriptions, it will make it easier for me to jump into a hardneck variety.

Stefaneener said...


I'm going to put in a bed of garlic this fall, for sure.

Mr. H. said...


That's great, we always do a small trial on anything new we are trying.
Thanks for stopping by.

Mr. H. said...


One of the nice things about growing garlic is that you can get a lot in a small space. I look forward to reading about how yours turned out.

el said...

OK, need to trade Mike's Garlic for some of mine!

I so need to get busy with the list of trades. I'm busy enough seed-processing, surely...

And your shallots should be ready to go soon. I've already harvested the ones you gave me; they weren't terribly happy with my clay soil, sniff.

Roasted Garlicious said...

this seems to be a great year for garlic and onions... at least on the west coast.. i'm loving that you've gone into great detail on garlic..i've grown it for years, but usually only a few at a time.. next year i plan for more.. i love leeks as well and grow them mostly just for the beauty of the flowers! not to mention some good eating!!!


Mr. H. said...


You got it, perhaps you will be able to identify them for me. I'm hoping to pull Mikes garlic in a week or two. We just pulled our shallots yesterday, I'm really excited to get a bunch of them going next year.

If we ever win the lottery perhaps I will ship you a couple truck loads of really fine soil. Darned clay.

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

Our leeks are getting pink and white flowers as well, they really are neat. All of our seed onions, garlic, shallots, and so on, did and are doing great this year. My only blunder was planting my set onions too early, they all bolted on me.

LynnS said...

Really well written post, Mike. Now I wanna see a braid of your softnecks when you harvest them. You can do it! It's quite neat to make one!

Knit Witch said...

So, when you plant garlic do you just separate the bulb and plant each individual clove??

We LOVE your blog! We learn so much!

Mr. H. said...


Asking me to braid is pretty funny. Not that I wouldn't like too, but...well it's a dexterity issue. You should see how long it takes me to tie ribbons on my pepper and eggplants for seed saving purposes. Besides, we didn't grow all that many softneck garlic, this being the first year for them and all. So I will put off braiding until next year and promise to try it on one of my bundles at that point.:)

Mr. H. said...

Knit witch,

Yes, Garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one plant with a single bulb which will contain many separate cloves.

Plant the cloves with the pointed end facing up in the early fall if you live in a northern climate, anytime if not, preferably not during a really wet period.In the north the cloves will start building their root systems and have a head start the next spring.

Thanks for your kind comments, I really appreciate them.

Mrs. Mac said...

This is good information here Mike. I being extremely green in all things garden related .. bought my off the shelf bulbs at the local hardware store at the same time I purchased strawberry, asparagus & rhubarb plants in April. It got planted and has developed into smallish looking bulbs .. I'll let them 'cook' a few more weeks before harvesting ;) I hope to be able to find more to plant before planting time this fall.

Anonymous said...

Hello, First time posting here. You have put together a very informative site. A lot of thought and research seems to go into your posts. Thank you for the info about the garlic bulbis. I thought I was planting garlic chives last year from these seeds and then scapes appeared. I've been a bit confused until this post. I harvested what I thought were all the scapes and by the way they make a delicious pesto!!! When I harvested the garlic, I found some with the bulbis and am drying the seed. I was confused as well by the round, cloveless garlic I had grown until reading this post. Thank you for the info and the prompt to further research on the web. Chris

Mr. H. said...

Mrs. Mac,

Yes, spring garic won't get as big as the fall plants ones. You will have to stop by sometime and I will share a few of my cloves with you.:)

Mr. H. said...


They can be a bit confusing, that's why I decided I had better try and get a handle on them....at least the ones we are growing.

You know, I wanted to try and make scape pesto this year and never got around to it. We have been frying up a few of the bulbils with potatoes though...really good.

Thanks so much for visiting,


Kim said...


Thank you for the info on garlic. Where do you buy your garlic to plant? I have yet to find anyone who can ship to Idaho so I have yet to try growing it. :)

Mr. H. said...


We normally just use some last years crop but did purchase a few new types from Northwest Seed & Pet in Spokane Wa last year. In the past I have grown garlic straight of the shelf of an organic grocery store and had good results. Irish "Eyes Garden Seeds" has a good selection but are pricey, as far as I know they do ship to Idaho.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your great site and blog, I have loved reading all
your adventures :)
About how long after the seedhead on hardneck garlic pops do I
dig them up and harvest?
Have asked about 20 garlic professionals and USDA and no one can
tell me.

So please let me know how long after the seedhead pops, even a
close estimate (week, 2 wks), 10days, appreciate your help. I have about 5,000 plants this is depending on, so I do it right :) please please help

Anonymous said...

as for shipping to Idaho, that's where I live too :)
We get all our great organic garlics from
Goodies Garlic in Idaho.
I can post the contact info if you want.
Best garlic we have ever tasted!

Mr. H. said...

Jeannie - Shortly after the seedhead opens up and approximately half of the leaves have turned brown it is time to harvest your garlic. I noticed last year that the leaves started to get brown about 1-2 weeks after the seed head had fully opened.

When you think they might be ready you can also dig up a couple bulbs and see if the cloves appear to be fully formed...this is the best test. The trick is to harvest them just before the wrappers begin to deteriorate and the bulbs split open. Keep in mind that different varieties will be ready at slightly different times.

Hope that helped a bit, and watch for those leaves to start turning brown. I would indeed be interested in the contact info. for Goodies garlic if you get a chance. Thanks.:) - Mike

Mr. H. said...

Thank you, I think we are going to put in an order for some garlic from Goodies.:) They have a couple varieties that I would like to try.

Anonymous said...

hey there Mr H.
It's me again, the one who posted goodies info.

I guess since this is the only web reference with the actual email, they are now getting a bunch of spam, from spam robots that wander the web.

Could you please change it to


in my previous post?

Maybe that will help them not get so much spam now. my fault.
Thanks :) :)

Mr. H. said...

Anonymous - oh thanks Mike :)
so much. NOW I know!!!

Goodies Garlic and Produce



Asiatic, Turban, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Span.Roja and a few others.
Their garlic is just SO good, maybe its the soil or LOL as my hubby says, they might read a bedtime story everynight to the garlic! *ROFL*

Have a wonderful day! You sure made mine!

Mr. H. said...

Anonymous - I changed the email as you suggested. If it continues to be a problem let me know and I will remove it completely. It will be garlic planting time soon.:)

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