Last Thanksgiving we planted about 50 cloves of garlic: 30 in our plot and about 20 in a community plot. We harvested it all in mid-July and let it sit in a reasonably dark, cool space in our dining room. Now they are cured and ready for storage and seed. We’ll save about 10 of our own heads for planting this Fall and the 20 from the community plot will be turned to seed for the gardeners this year.
Planting garlic is fun and easy. Garlic takes almost no real work, but it should be planted by Thanksgiving to overwinter. When the ground thaws (in Rhode Island, around late February), little green shoots will sprout out of the ground. With kale and spinach, garlic is one of the first true signs of spring.
In colder regions like ours (6B), hard-neck garlic should be planted. Soft-neck garlic might make it, but it really depends on the harshness of the winter. We love this purple variety we got from our CSA last year. It is very pungent and yields enormous cloves. Compared to grocery garlic, 3-4 cloves would equal one of ours. And ours are actually juicy.
We use almost the entire plant. In June we eat the scapes as pesto and spread it on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise, dollop it on eggs with ricotta cheese or just eat it straight-up with crusty bread. The woodier stalks are used in making soup stock along with the skins and onions, carrots or potatoes.
By mid-July the garlic plant is nearly as high as our shoulders. Once the leaves turn 2/3 brown, they’re ready to pull. Many people suggest not actually pulling them out, but I’ll admit that I do just that. I guess you’re supposed to gently dig them out. When we pulled them this year, I was reminded of those old cartoons where a groundhog or rabbit sucks a carrot right out of its hole, except opposite.
We use an average of 1 head of garlic each week. Combined with the garlic we get from our CSA share, we should have enough to save for seed and for eating for 2012.