Planting garlic (along with your kiss) on my list of the best things in life. It signifies the wrapping up of the season while looking forward to next spring. Very few other tasks tie this season and next together in quite the same way.
Garlic is something that anyone, with any amount of growing space can plant and harvest with a relative amount of ease. The timing will vary depending on your region. In northern Michigan, garlic goes into the ground traditionally around Columbus Day. Talk with your local extension agents for your timing in your zone. Ideally, you want the cloves to make a bit of rooting but not be in the ground so early as to encourage them to sprout and put up shoots only to be frosted and frozen throughout the winter months.
Farmer’s Markets and seed companies are the best place to buy garlic for planting. This garlic won’t be treated with spray to prevent sprouting the way that most grocery store garlic is. Ask around and see what type of varieties are out there. We focus on hard neck garlic (where there is one central, woody stalk and cloves around it) but are just starting to get into soft neck (which is most often available at the store). It is really a matter of personal preference.
Garlic Planting Step by Step…
- Break up your garlic heads. Simply separate each clove from selected heads of garlic. Keep the paper on the clove as much as possible. Be sure to look closely at the foot of the garlic to be sure that each clove is separate. It is easy plant two together, but they will compete and not grow as nicely.
- Prepare your garden space. Be sure that the soil is loose enough so that the clove can grow without hitting a hardpan part of the ground.
- Make a 4-6 inch deep hole that is 1 inch wide (large enough to slide the clove in easily). We use a tool that Jess made, a dibbler, which is a tapered, smooth stick with a handle. You can use anything but be warned that the rougher the tool, the sorer your hands may become.
- Make the rest of your holes between 6 and 8 inches apart. We plant in rows of four but adapt your style to your space.
- Slide the clove (foot side down) into the whole so that the tip is about 2 inches below the soil collapsing dirt around the garlic clove. Avoid leaving an air pocket around the clove or it won’t root properly and will be more likely to freeze in the cold.
- Top the holes with a handful of compost. You can also add compost before making the holes; it depends on how much time, compost and inclination you have.
- Spread an even but fluffy layer of straw over the garlic beds. This protects them in the winter and keeps the weeds down in the spring. Avoid any mats of straw or else the garlic will not be able to push through in the spring.
What to expect from your garlic…
- Green shoots will push through the straw and grow taller and taller. This is green garlic and is a spring favorite flavor of mine (see recipes below). It has a grassy, garlicky flavor. Use the entire stalk like a leek.
Mid-Summer (Usually around 4th of July)
- When five leaves of the plant are present, the stalk will start to send out its scapes. These are the curly-ques that would eventually straighten to make the garlic flower. We pull these scapes off and use them in stir-fries or pestos. Once the plant has started to send out its scapes, it is generally too woody to continue to use as green garlic
- We harvest these scapes, not only because they are delicious but because by removing the flower, and the plants preferred method of propagation, the plant puts more energy into its cloves making them larger.
- If you let the scapes go a bit the plant will start to form the seeds within the flower, which are tiny, baby garlic cloves. They are a pain to peel but are a wonderful treat. I like tossing them with roasting potatoes. When both are done the garlic will push out of its skin easily.
Late Summer (mid-August)
- The lower leaves of the garlic will start to brown. Pull the entire plant from the ground (a digging fork may be necessary to not snap the stalk). You will see garlic just like at the store come from underground.
- Store it in a cool, dry, dark space and its papery skin will develop as it cures. Cured garlic is what is available at the store. I find that uncured garlic has a more flowery taste but that the strength of the garlic flavor dissipates quickly when heated. Because of that, I tend to add it raw to most dishes.
- Pull aside the largest and most beautiful heads, break apart the cloves and start the whole process again in the fall.
Recipes for the Whole Season
Green Garlic and Spinach Pasta
4 stalks green garlic thickly sliced
8 oz fresh spinach washed and chopped into strips
1 small onion thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock or water
4 Tbspn butter
2 large servings of pasta just finished cooking (I like any long noodle with this sauce)
- In a low pan sweat the onions and garlic in a knob of butter and a pinch of salt until soft.
- Increase the heat and add the chicken stock or water.
- When the liquid comes to a boil add the 3 T of butter and let reduce until saucy.
- Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce and fresh spinach allowing the spinach to wilt.
- Serve with a hefty grating of Raclette or Parmesan cheese.
Kale and Garlic Scape Chimichurri
1 bunch kale
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch garlic scapes
1 T sunflower seeds, toasted
2 Tblspn red wine vinegar
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ C olive oil
- Strip and wash kale leaves
- Cut garlic scapes into ½ inch pieces
- Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and whiz for a couple of pulses to roughly combine
- Drizzle in olive oil, taste and add more salt or vinegar as wanted
Garlic and Egg Soup
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
4 slices of French bread, sliced ½” thick and rubbed with a garlic clove
½ T each sweet and hot paprika
¼ tsp cumin seed
1 qt chicken stock or water
4 large eggs
- In a heavy douse of olive oil, cook the garlic over low heat until just about to color. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
- Fry the bread in the remaining garlic oil until lightly brown. Remove from the pot and add the spices to bloom in the remaining oil.
- Return the cooked garlic to the pot, adding the stock and seasoning with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.
- Place the bowls on a cookie sheet, ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls and crack an egg into each bowl. Move the tray into a 400F oven and cook for 3 minutes. The egg white should be set but the yolk still soft. Garnish with the garlicky bread and serve.