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Jessica Walliser

Try experimenting with garlic varieties

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, 8:09 p.m.
Hardneck garlic plants with the curled scapes.
Jessica Walliser
Hardneck garlic plants with the curled scapes.

Next week is garlic planting time at my house. Mid-October is the perfect time to settle the cloves into the soil for their long winter nap. In spring, green spouts will emerge and the bulbs will begin to form. By mid-July, the garlic will be ready to harvest.

One of my favorite things to do is try different garlic varieties. Much like a Brandywine tomato differs in flavor from an Early Girl, each garlic cultivar has a subtly distinct flavor. It's fun to experiment in the kitchen and discover what flavor each variety can lend to a dish.

When selecting which garlic varieties to add to your garden, think about whether they're hardneck or softneck types.

Hardnecks are more cold-hardy than softnecks. They produce the curled flower stalk, or scapes (which are great to use in the kitchen).

Hardneck types are great for northern gardeners, but they only store for a few months. Hardneck garlics produce about eight to 10 cloves per head.

There are hundreds of named hardneck garlic varieties, and the diversity they offer the kitchen is unparalleled. There are so many unique flavors.

Many softneck garlic varieties aren't as cold-hardy as the hardnecks, but they're great for braiding because the stalks are more flexible. Harvested softneck garlics store for a long time, sometimes as long as nine months. Softnecks do not form a scape and produce more cloves per head. There are only a few dozen named softneck garlic varieties.

No matter what type of garlic you choose, they should be planted in well-drained soil that has been amended with compost. The best pH for bulb development is between 6.0 and 7.0.

To plant garlic, crack the head apart and separate it into individual cloves. Leave the papery tunics intact. Plant the cloves about 6 inches apart and 2 inches deep. Separate your rows by 10 to 12 inches. Once planting is complete, mulch the area with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter. I use straw or shredded leaves.

There's not much else to do to properly care for your garlic, except make sure the area stays free of weeds. In May or June, snap off the scapes from any hardneck garlic varieties as they form. This will divert energy back to the bulb.

In July, when the plants have turned about halfway yellow, pull the garlic and hang it in a cool, well-ventilated place to cure for two weeks. Then cut off the stalks and store the heads in a brown paper bag or a mesh bag in a dark location. Alternatively, you can braid softneck types when the stalks are still flexible and hang them in a well-ventilated, cool area out of direct sunlight.

Here are some of my favorite garlic varieties. Look for them at your local garden center or farmers market, or buy them online from enonvalleygarlic.com, garlicfarm.com or territorialseed.com.

Hardneck varieties

Music: This mid-season garlic produces well in my garden, making many thick, white- and pink-skinned cloves. It has a traditional garlic flavor and is very cold tolerant.

Mt. Hood: Producing huge heads with large cloves, this variety is easy to peel. I think the flavor is a little more mild than some of the other garlics I've grown.

German White: A variety that's particularly good for gardens with poor drainage, this one seems to tolerate wet soil better than other types. It has white flesh and is very spicy.

Georgian Fire: If you want a super-hot garlic, this is the variety for you. I find Georgian Fire produces fewer, but larger, cloves than most other varieties. Once you eat it, don't plan on kissing anyone for a few days.

Softneck varieties

Inchelium Red: One of the few softnecks I regularly grow in my garden, this mild flavored garlic is buttery and stores for a very long time. Last year, my heads lasted nearly a year.

Silver Rose: This softneck finds a home in my garden every few years. It has pure white cloves and a mild to medium garlic flavor. I find it stores very well, often lasting for six to nine months.

Polish Softneck: This is a good one for gardeners who like their garlic cloves on the pudgy side. The plump cloves are easy to peel, but the flavor is super-hot and spicy, even once it's been fully cooked. Don't eat it raw or you'll be tasting it for weeks!

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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