How to Grow Garlic in Warm Winter Areas - From the Deep South all the way to California
Overview of Growing Gourmet Garlic in Warm Winter Areas.
Garlic was the International Herb Association's Herb of the Year in 2004 and people learned that there are many kinds of garlic; all different in taste, pungency, color, size, shape, etc. I have had requests from many people who want to grow these gourmet garlics in warm winter areas like the South, California and Texas for something that speaks to their special needs. This article is my response to those requests.
Garlic Isn't Just Garlic Anymore, Now There are Many Gourmet Varieties.
There's been a quiet revolution going on in the food and gardening worlds involving garlic. People everywhere are beginning to learn there are many different kinds of gourmet garlics with a wide range of pungency, flavors and colors. While some kinds were heirloom varieties brought to the USA by immigrants over the centuries, most of them came to us in 1989 from a tour of the southern USSR by USDA collectors and advisors, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. The USDA enlisted the help of A handful of conscientious small-scale growers in growing out the numerous cultivars on a shared basis and that's how these rare garlics came onto the American scene.
These few small-scale growers have been preserving these many unique varieties that come from all over the world and selling them to other growers, gardeners and friends.
Word of these exotic garlics has spread among garlic lovers like kids getting out of school for the summer and every garlic lover who knows about them is excited about them. This article will explore the different kinds, with emphasis on the ones that can be grown in the deep South, Texas, California and other warm winter areas.
Many Kinds of Beautiful Garlics Grow Well in the South.
The latest DNA studies of over 150 cultivars divides garlic into three types, hardneck, weakly bolting hardneck and softneck types.
Those which usually grow a hardneck (proper name is scape), are called hardneck garlics and those that don't grow a hardened scape, called softneck garlics. The third group are those which do send up a scape but only about 2/3 of the bulbs will, though., called weakly bolting hardnecks.
Hardneck garlic types include Rocamboles, very strongly flavored garlics that grow best in the northern states due to their cold winters, cool springs and warm summers. Other hardnecks include Porcelains, like Music and Romanian Red, (long storing, big cloves, strong flavors and usually pungent) and Purple Stripes, such as Chesnok Red (nee Shvelisi) and Persian Star (nee Samarkand) (rich taste, moderate pungency - sweetest garlics for roasting). Both porcelains and purple stripes are usually marginal or "iffy" in the South, though some will grow well here most years, but rocamboles are not recommended at all.
Burgundy - A Creole Garlic.
Varieties that usually do the best in the South are the early season weakly bolting hardnecks called Asiatic and Turban garlics and the midseason Creole weakly bolting hardnecks (long storing, wide range of tastes and flavors from mild to pungent). Creoles, such as Burgundy (rich - mellow when raw) Creole Red (shallot-like when raw) and Ajo Rojo ( very hot when raw) may be the most beautiful of all garlics and have very brightly colored wrappers.
The softneck types include the artichoke and silverskin varieties, of which the artichokes are some of the easiest to grow in the South and have large flattish bulbs, while the more teardrop-shaped silverskin types which are always the last to mature are worth growing because they store longer than all the other kinds. The artichoke garlics look like the ordinary white garlic you see in most grocery stores, but with a wide range of flavor and pungency and often more color and they are not irradiated.
Creole Red Garlic Grows best in Warm Winter Areas
Creole Red is a rich, medium, shallot-like flavored Creole that has about 10 cloves per bulb and they are uniformly large cloves and it can store for 8 months or longer at room temp, stored in a brown paper bag and out of direct sunlight.
What kinds of Garlic Grow Well in Warmer Climates? What kinds don't.
As mentioned above, usually, softneck garlics, that is, artichokes and silverskins do better in warmer areas than hardnecks, having been selected for that trait by growers over the centuries.
Of softnecks, artichoke garlics usually grow a little bigger than silverskins, but don't store as long. Grow both kinds and eat the shorter storing varieties first and save the long storing ones for last and maybe they'll still be good when your earliest harvesting garlics are ready to dig up. You may never run out of fresh garlic again.
Garlic is planted in the fall or winter and some artichoke varieties mature very early in the harvest season (as early as May), but most silverskins mature very late in the season (closer to August). There is a wide range of flavors involved, from very mild to very strong.
Some hardnecks don't do as well as softnecks in the south. In central Texas, we have been totally unable to grow Rocamboles and gave up after ten different varieties failed (our spring gets too warm, too fast for them).
We have had fairly good results with porcelains, being able to grow them nice and large some years (cooler winter and spring years) but not as big in other years (warmer winter and spring years). Same with most purple stripe garlics, although there are some very notable exceptions (namely, Metechi and Siberian, both of which grow extremely well for us - see below). Most of these porcelain and purple stripe varieties are a little "iffy" in the south, but well worth the risk if you get in a good crop of them, once in a while. Since all varieties react differently to weather, some will flourish while others don't do as well, but next year they will change places. By growing several kinds, something will always do well.
All that having been said, the varieties that have done the best for us are:
Burgundy, a beautiful example of a Creole silverskin. Deep purple, uniform cloves, delightfully rich mild-medium flavor in a bulb that grows well and stores 6 to 8 months at room temp. Very hardy and harvests in mid-season.
Ajo Rojo is another long storing Creole similar to Burgundy except that its color is more red than purple and it has a much sharper bite.
Siberian(bottom) and Metechi (top) are Marbled Purple Stripe Garlics.
Metechi, a purple stripe of the marbled group. Big, strong and robust - the best in our garden, year after year. Harvests in the middle-late part of the harvest season.
Siberian looks almost exactly like Metechi except it is the opposite in taste, mild like Red Toch or Chet's Italian Red.
Asiatic hardnecks (also Turbans) such as Asian Tempest or Chinese Pink, grow big, very strong, hearty bulbs and are always the earliest garlic we harvest. Instantly hot raw taste, though in some cultivars the heat is delayed for a few seconds. A sort of Chinese time bomb.
I'm a little reluctant to recommend Asiatics and Turbans even though I have grown them successfully some years, they are very short storing and seem to me to be more susceptable to pathogens. They are the only garlics whose necks flop over like onions and you have to be sure to harvest them before they flop over or they won't store as well. Their great value is that they are very early season strong garlics at a time when most people have not been able to get good garlic for months and are desperate for fresh garlic.
Artichoke Garlics Grow well in the South
Red Toch (mild) and Inchelium Red (medium) and Lorz Italian (hot) are standard Artichokes that are very white and usually large. Being an early season garlic, Red Toch usually does well most years.
Inchelium Red, winner of 1989 Organic Gardening taste contest, another standard Artichoke, with a tinge of red that produces large bulbs of medium flavor - nice taste, but not overpowering.
Lorz Italian is a strongly flavored, pungent artichoke garlic from southern Italy that grows well in the South and is a good keeper.
Siciliano, an extremely white colored artichoke with a rich flavor, yet mellow pungency.
Silverskin Garlics Grow well in the South
Silverskins are a special variety of garlic as they are the last variety to mature every year, usually a month or more after the last of the other varieties and so have an amazing tolerance of hot conditions as long as they get enough water. Silverskins store longer than other varieties and are still firm and good long after all other garlics from the same crop year are nothing but memories. Most people harvest Silverskins at the same time as they harvest their other garlics but that's usually too soon to harvest Silverskins. Silverskins are the last garlics to be affected by the hear of summer; the have an amazing tolerance.
In any garlic, its pungency increases with age as it dries out over time and Silverskin's taste is a mellow medium when fresh but increases in sharpness as it dries down over winter and is very sharp in the spring. The hotter a garlic is, the more allicin it produces when crushed.
Silver White is a Silverskin that has a strong, deep earthy flavor and is long storing.
Mild French and Silverwhite. White bulb wrappers with beautiful rose colored cloves that are a little milder than Locati, but still in the medium range. S & H Silverskin. White bulb wrappers and purplish colored clove covers that are a rich medium flavor but very mild in pungency, or hotness. Grows and stores very well most years.
People living in south and central Florida will have better luck with Creoles than anything else. In fact, Creoles are the only hope in south Florida but they do grow well there.
Conversely, in north Florida varieties that grow well in years of colder winters and cooler springs, but not in hot or dry years include Purple Stripes such as Chesnok Red and Persian Star as well as Porcelains, such as German White (AKA German Hardy and German Extra Hardy and German Stiffneck), Romanian Red, Georgian Crystal and Georgian Fire would do well less often in these areas.
Garlic growing is unpredictable in warm winter areas because the weather is different every year. In most cooler winter/springs, most cultivars except Rocamboles will do OK, but in warmer winter/springs and years with an early hot summer, most hardneck cultivars will be hard pressed to do well.
For a more complete description of these and other varieties, you might check out the Varieties section of our website.
What about the Issue of Garlic Breath? (Pardon the Pun)
Garlic breath simply isn't a problem - in an age of designer garlic breath, true garlic lovers are proud of their garlic breath, wear it like a badge of honor and claim that they reek of good health. That's right, these people have designer garlic breath; they don't have ordinary garlic breath. They have Metechi breath or Burgundy breath or Spanish Roja or Music or Red Toch breath. The more socially sensitive among them will munch on a few sunflower seeds and chew a little parsely to lessen the intensity of their aroma some.
Eating garlic makes you feel really good, or in the words of one research psychologist, "Eating garlic gives the consumer an enhanced sense of well-being". Have you ever noticed that people with garlic breath are usually grinning? These folks are almost giddy at times.
Garlic breath never bothers the ones who have it, they're too busy having fun.
Growing Garlic in Warm Winter Areas
Soil Preparation is everything
Who Says You Can't Grow Gourmet Garlic in the Deep South, Texas or southern California?
We live right in the heart of Texas, 75 miles southeast of Abilene and as our climate varies from year to year, the characteristics of our garlic vary as well. We will also tell you what varieties have thrived and which did not make the grade.
Supposedly, we have cool winters, warm springs and hot, early summers. But sometimes we get long cold winters and sometimes they're wet. Sometimes they're dry and with strong winds that don't let up until July. I don't think any two are very similar. Our rainfall has ranged from 8 to 38 inches yearly, with the average year around 18-24 the last few years and our soil type is mostly bottomland silt.
Be ready to see changes in the appearance, size, color and taste of garlic, based on what kind of growing conditions are present during each different crop year. One year we had a dry winter with extreme temperature changes that resulted in reversing the taste of our garlics. Normally hot varieties were mild and normally mild varieties became very hot and strong (they all reverted to normal the following year). Most years you'll have full healthy foliage and big bulbs.
Garlic will usually get what it wants out of the soil and survive whatever the current year's weather brings. The smaller bulbs usually have more intense flavor than the larger ones, and that's not all bad. As long as you grow it outdoors, every year will be different.
Growing Techniques that work for us.
Garlic growing is definitely different in the warm winter states than it is in the northern tier of cold winter states. You can plant later and harvest earlier. You can plant right on up until the end of December, or even later some years. There have been times we have planted some varieties in late January and February and still obtained large, healthy bulbs, but it is usually better to get it in the ground in October or November as it will always get larger. The real key is when the weather turns hot enough to force the garlic to mature and shed all its leaves and wait underground until it cools off some in the fall.
Another difference is that garlic emerges in the fall/winter and puts on good foliage all winter long while northern garlics do not emerge until just before its final surge of growth in the spring. Southern growers can be enjoying wonderful fresh garlic a month or two before northerners.
I recommend using organic growing methods if you want the best results in terms of taste, nutrition and human and plant health.
Garlic does best grown in rotation with other garden crops in good organic garden soil with pH in the range between 6.5 and 7. Garlic can only get out of the soil that which is in the soil to begin with. It's pretty good at getting what it needs out of any soil, but thrives in good soil and has no special N-P-K requirements. In fact, too much nitrogen will cause lush leaf growth but small bulbs. Growing in rotation rather than growing it in the same place year after year will keep the soil fertile and prevent pathogens from building up in the soil. Garlic grown in good, healthy organic soil withstands weather extremes that would stunt garlic grown in tight, dry soil.
Raised Beds or Not?
Whether you choose to plant in flat beds or raised beds is largely determined by your soil type. If you have sandy soil that doesn't hold water well, then flat beds are fine and should grow good garlic if you start with the right kinds for your area.
On the other hand, if you have tight clay or silty soil like we do, raised beds are usually better. A few inches below the surface, our silty soil becomes very tight and that makes it difficult to dig up the bulbs without damaging them or their roots. Also, in tight soils, the raised beds help reduce fungal infestations by holding the bulbs up further out of standing water after heavy rains.
If the soil is hard and caked on the surface, rainwater flows right off the raised beds without soaking in. Mulching with organic material helps to conserve soil moisture and keeps the surface absorbent.
What works for us is six inch high raised beds about 24 inches wide across the top containing four rows of garlic, six inches apart, with staggered rows to maximize root space. These raised beds are spaced five feet apart from center to center (because our tractor tires are 5'apart, center to center). this gives us plenty of room to work in between the beds or drive the tractor over one bed. We build the beds one at a time and plant immediately while the soil is still soft. Cloves are set with the bottom of the cloves two inches deep. Each bed is planted with varieties that will mature all at the same time.
When building the raised beds by hand it saves a lot of hard work to use a small tiller like the Mantis Tiller/Cultivator to till up the areas on both sides of the middle where your raised bed will be and then raking or hoeing the loosened soil atop the center to build the raised bed.
As soon as the bed has been planted, we run drip irrigation tubes (we use t-tape with built-in emitters 8 to12 inches apart) down the bed inside the two outer rows on each side so the beds get evenly watered. and cover the bed with three or four inches of organic mulch (leaves, whatever). Then we build the next bed. When we're done, we mulch between the beds to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.
We went to that system for three reasons. First, to get the roots into looser soil and make harvest easier on people and plants, both. Second, to get the bulb up out of the water zone after heavy rains and during the drydown period just before harvest to avoid fungal and other problems.
Lastly, in building the bed by adding the surrounding topsoil on top the topsoil in the bed, you increase the feeding zone of the plants roots by thickening the layer of fertile topsoil above the less fertile deeper soil. This additional nutrient-rich layer allows the roots to get more out of the soil and their increased strength allows them to resist pests and weather extremes better. Water also percolates through it better.
Preparing the garlic for planting and planting
Garlic is subject to fungal diseases and pest infestations that can be virtually undetectable until they strike. Prevention is the best way to deal with them. In our experience, garlic that is soaked in certain solutions and with the clove covers peeled off have a better chance of growing free of pathogen or pest.
When your soil is fully ready to be planted, take the bulbs you want to plant and break them apart into their individual cloves (Being sure to keep each variety separate from others. Soak each varieties' cloves in water containing one heaping tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and liquid seaweed per gallon to protect them from fungus as well as give them an energy boost. Leave the cloves in the soda water overnight for 16 to 24 hours or long enough for the clove covers to loosen so the liquid comes into contact with the surfaces of the cloves and the clove covers loosen up so that the cloves can easily be extracted without damaging them.
Garlic's clove covers can contain fungal spores, or conidia or the eggs of pests such as mites and are best discarded rather than planted since the first thing the cloves do is to shed them, anyway. The baking soda helps neutralize the fungi. Commercial growers don't usually have time to peel cloves bare but they need to find an economical way to do it because garlic diseases or pests can put them out of business. Gardeners have the time and and should peel the clove covers off.
If you can come up with a less expensive way to maximize crop quality and control pest and pathogen infestation, do it.
The cloves should then be soaked in rubbing alcohol or 100 proof vodka for three or four minutes and then planted immediately. The alcohol kills mites and other pests and any pathogens the first soaking missed. I'm not sure if the alcohol soaking kills mite eggs or not but removing the clove covers and swishing the bare cloves around vigorously in alcohol will likely remove most of them. Every time I have done this, the treated garlic turned out better than the untreated control group. Alcohols are on the National Organic Program accepted list and baking soda is accepted under part 205.605. This may seem a little draconian, but many pathogens that affect garlic present few or no symptoms until it is too late, and the soaking eliminates most problems before they develop. For long term soil health, it is best not to plant anything but healthy cloves.
Here in central Texas, we plant about 2 to 3 inches deep, with larger varieties going a little deeper in the ground than the smaller varieties. We put them in by hand so we can be sure each clove is properly bedded down. It's a lot of work on our hands and knees, but it's the best way to get the best results. Garlic does not lend itself well to automated planting technology due to the irregular size and shape differences in the cloves. Our beds are 6 in. high and 24 in. wide, we drip irrigate with T-Tapes and cover all with a 3 inch deep mulch to protect from weeds and to hold in the soil moisture, more to act as a barrier to direct sunlight on the soil than for temperature protection. Garlic survives cold quite well as it was designed by nature to grow in the fall, rest in the winter and bulb out in the late spring or early to mid-summer.
Across the northern tier of states garlics leaves do not usually emerge from the ground until spring, although in a warm winter, they will emerge an grow in the winter just as they do in the South or in California. Garlic loves the cold weather but it can be frozen out if the temp drops 10 or 20 below zero-F and stays there for a couple of weeks, but that can't happen this far south. During those times when we actually get snow down here, it's a beautiful sight to see all those lush deep green spearlike leaves shooting up abruptly out out of the stark white snow. When you walk out to make sure they're OK, you can almost hear them laughing and frolicking in the snow and singing their song of joy and thanksgicing for being alive. The garlics allow the grower to join the party, but no one else - it's a private family affair, outsiders wouldn't understand.
It's usually best to plant garlic in the fall as close to the autumnal equinox as possible. Garlic likes to sprout roots and grow leaves in the fall and feed and develop for a little while before the cold winter temperatures force it to curtail its growth and rest until the warmer weather comes. It uses this time to establish its root system so it can survive the winter and be ready to explode with growth in the spring before the weather turns hot. Hot weather forces garlic to bolt; that is, to mature, to try to go to. But since garlic does not produce seed, it reproduces by forming as many cloves as its genetics allow and growing them as big as it can before the summer heat kills the leaves.
If you leave that multi-cloved bulb in the ground, it will wait until fall and every one of those cloves will try to send up its own leaves and they will all try to grow in the same spot, resulting in a large number of very small garlics the following spring. That is why it is necessary to pull the bulb out of the ground when it matures and store it in a cool, dry place until the fall. In the fall, separate the bulbs into cloves, being careful not to bruise or damage the cloves, and plant the cloves, top side up, six to eight inches apart so they will have room to grow and not fight over the limited resources of a small area.
Garlic's natural cycle is to be planted outside in the fall and to be harvested the following spring or summer, depending on variety. Garlic can be planted in the spring and might mature ok, but fall planting usually gets better results. You can plant garlic anytime in the fall but early October is usually the best time. Plant garlic in a sunny part of your garden where garlic has not been grown for at least three years - garlic grows best in soils where crops have been rotated. Work up and loosen top six inches of fertile garden soil.
Plant the individual cloves with the sharp pointed end up and the bottom (root) end down, with the bottom of the clove being 2" to 3" deep in the South and planted six to eight inches apart from each other - eight is better if your garden has the room. Lay a few inches of organic mulch (grass and leaves) over them and water as needed. In the South it will come up and grow almost immediately most years but occasionally it will not emerge until spring.
Tending the Garlic During the Growing Season
If you live in one of those areas that gets a lot of rainfall, even a light mulch is usually better than no mulch since it keeps rainfall from splashing dirt up on the leaves and then having it wash down into their bases and, possibly, contaminate the bulb with some kind of soil-borne bacteria or fungal spores. If you have heavy soil that holds water a long time, thick mulching may not be for you.
If you live in a dry area or have sandy soil, a thick mulch is essential if you want good results. By alternately irrigating or removing mulch, you can control the soil moisture to maximize bulb size and health. Using organic mulch has an additional benefit - you're fertilizing the soil for next year. We found that when we put several inches of mulch on the entire growing area that our harvest was better all the way around and the soil was less weedy and more fertile and softer for the next crop.
In the south, the idea is to keep the ground cool as long as you can so the garlic will bulb up good before warm temperatures force maturity. If it matures before the bulb has grown large, you will have small garlic. It is the increasing heat that causes garlic to mature, each in its own time.
Mulching also discourages weeds from sprouting and growing. We have had a lot less problems with weeds since we began mulching. We still have to weed some but not as much as we would have to if we didn't mulch. Garlic does not do as well if there are weeds in the beds as they do not compete well against weeds.
Other TipsGrowing garlic in rotation with other crops which we fertilize with old cow and chicken manure as well as compost means we don't have to fertilize the garlic very much, just so the soil stays loose and soft to make planting go easier. Every two weeks during the growing season we give the garlic a foliar feeding using the same formula that we use for inoculation, but adding a tablespoon of molasses as well.
Stop feeding once the bulb begins to swell and grow, but continue to water. We discontinue watering a week or so before harvesting to let the soil and the garlic dry down some as late watering can cause bulb wrappers to split as the bulbs swell up too rapidly. Excess water during this time can also lead to fungal and other disease problems.
At harvest time, the mulch is pushed off to the sides and the beds are leveled during harvesting simply by moving the excess dirt to the walkways right on top of the remains of the mulch, assuring fertility for the next growing season. The soil is so soft that the entire root system comes up easily and without damage and often we can simply grasp them by the neck and pull them up with little resistance and we don't even have to dig them up.
How To Know When To Harvest.
Your garlic's leaves will tell you when it wants to be harvested. They will do this by beginning to turn brown from the bottom of the plant upward. When only the top five or six leaves are still green, that is the time to harvest. Notable exceptions to this general rule are the Asian and Turban Artichokes - they need to be harvested as soon as their lower leaves start to turn brown.
Shut off water to any variety when the bottom one-third (one half if you have sandy soil) of the leaves have turned brown and pull the mulch away from the beds to allow the soil to dry out. If it looks like rain, put a tarp over your garlic bed and remove it after the rain.
When just over half of its leaves have browned and only the upper leaves are still green, it is time to harvest if the ground is dry enough. You can test for soil moisture content by digging carefully down to the root area and putting your hand in the soil. If your fingers get muddy, it is too wet to harvest. But if you must harvest anyway, rinse the mud off in running water and strip the plant down to it's outermost complete layer of foliage and cure as usual. The top six of a garlic plant's leaves control the bulbs wrappers. If you wait until all the leaves die, these bulb wrappers will deteriorate and you will be left with bare bulbs that don't store well and invite contamination and disease.
Since each variety matures at a different time, we harvest only those that are ready at any one time. As each bed or row contains the same variety, you can use a garden fork to pry the bulbs from their earthy wombs and break up the soil so that it is easy to pull each bulb gently by hand. The dirt shakes off easily and just falls away from the roots, if the soil is properly dried.
Garlic should be taken immediately to a shady place with good air flow to dry down, or cure as it is called, for a few weeks. Each bulb should always be handled with gentle, loving care to prevent bruising - don't throw, bump or drop them, it can damage them and give disease an opportunity to set in.
You can braid the softneck types when they are about half cured and partly dry, but still pliable enough to braid. The cured hardneck garlics should be cleaned down to the first complete clean bulb wrapper and the roots and dried leaves cut off. The cleaned garlic stores well for three to nine months, depending on variety, at cool room temperature. You can store it in net bags, unglazed ceramic flower pots or double-bagged in plain brown paper grocery store bags.
The common wisdom and my usual advice is not to store garlic in the refrigerator as it will not store long and will soon sprout and yet I have had reports that the garlic stored beautifully for months.
Curing the Garlic
Many growers dispute the proper way to cure the garlic and cut the leaves and roots off for storage. Many growers wash their garlic and see nothing wrong with it while others are horrified by the thought. In my experience, garlic that is washed has a tendency to have wrinkled bulb wrappers that look a little like your fingers do right after a bath. It also seems to me that the extra moisture that accumulates in the bulb could lead to fungal infestation. Some cut the roots and leaves immediately, some wait a few weeks before trimming and some never trim their garlic. What is proper for one but not another may have to do with climate, humidity, human resources, cost of handling or available facilities.
We feel that garlic likes to dry down gradually in temperatures that are similar to those a few inches underground (about 72F). This initial drydown process is called curing the garlic. The idea is for the excess moisture in the roots and leaves to evaporate or withdraw into the bulb. When the roots and necks are completely dried and it does not emit a typical garlic odor when cut, that is the time to trim it. It usually takes two to four weeks to get to that point, longer for extra large bulbs. If you trim it while it is still moist and green, the fresh cuts expose the garlic to fungi, viruses and other contaminants that can set in and cause the garlic to spoil or pick up some disease you don't want it to have. With softneck garlics, many people braid them before they are completely dried down and are still pliable and never trim the roots while other braiders will trim the roots and flake off an outer bulb wrapper or two to make them more attractive.
After the garlic has cured, it is time to decide whether to trim or how much to trim it and how to store it so that it will last and still be good and healthy a few months later when it is time to plant next years crop or to last you for eating through the winter. USDA standards prescribe no more than a quarter-inch of root and no more than a half-inch of stem. I don't go along with that as I think it makes the garlic difficult to handle. We also use stem length as a means to identify certain garlics at a glance-different varieties of softnecks are cut to different lengths, that is, Locati will have longer stems than Rose du Var, to tell them apart at a glance since both look alike but taste different. It helps our customers identify them better, too. Many growers peel away the outer one or two layers of bulb wrappers in order to remove soil particles and contaminants and to make the bulbs more attractive to purchasers. If you have harvested your garlic at the right time, there should be several layers of bulb wrappers remaining.
Storing the Garlic.
As you might suspect, there is not widespread agreement among growers about storing the garlic any more than there is agreement about anything else. Again, you might try a few different things to see what works well for you. About the only thing that most people agree on is that it is bad to store garlic in plastic bags or sealed containers as these things promote rotting. They also agree that garlic should not be stored in direct sunlight.
Four factors affect the storage of garlic; namely, how well it was grown and cured, its varietal type, temperature and humidity. Garlic that was poorly grown and improperly cured will not get any better in storage. Some varieties naturally store longer than others. Silverskins are the longest storing , with Porcelains coming in second and Rocamboles being the shortest storing varieties, with Purple Stripes and Artichokes falling somewhere in the middle. Specific cultivars of each kind can vary from the pattern, but in general, this is the way it is.
Have you ever noticed that garlic that you buy at the supermarket doesn't seem to store very long once you take it home? There is a reason for that. The USDA recommends storing garlic at 32F, so most large chains of stores do that and require their suppliers to do likewise. Garlic stores well at that low temperature for a few months, (if the humidity isn't too high, which it sometimes is) but when you remove it from cold storage and place it on the shelf for sale, time catches up with it in a hurry. It either deteriorates rapidly or sprouts fairly soon and tries to grow. This makes for a garlic that is good for immediate use only.
We think garlic stores best long term when it is stored at between 55F and 65F and between 40% and 60% humidity. If the humidity stays below 40% for a couple of weeks or more, garlic has a tendency to dry out faster than it otherwise would. If humidity goes higher than 60% for any extended period of time, fungus and molds can set in. If the temperature goes below about 55F for an extended period of time, garlic tends to want to sprout and grow, even if it is not the right time of year (that's why the refrigerator is not a good place to store garlic). If temperatures stay much over 70F for any extended length of time, garlic tends to dry out and deteriorate. These are approximate ranges and need not be taken literally, but are very good guidelines. In our experience, garlic, except Rocamboles will store quite well for four to six months at between 65F and 75F as long as the humidity is moderate.
One of the advantages to keeping garlic around 55 F. is that fungi and other pathogens and pests are much less active than they are with the temp in the 75-80 F. range. Keeping them cool, but not cool enough to sprout them is the key to storing garlic well. It's pretty hard for the average person to achieve the proper temperature range for ideal storage of garlic.
It is important that airflow around the bulbs not be restricted too much as this hastens deterioration. A ventilated terra cotta storage jar is the best way to store garlic for the average person, since most people don't have grandpa's root cellar anymore. We have found that garlic stored in double paper bags in the shade in a normally air conditioned house seems to do pretty good. Of course, this isn't practical if you have several thousand bulbs, but works quite nicely for a few dozen. Basically, any dark, cool place is ok as long as the humidity is not excessive.
Good luck and enjoy the fruit of your labor. You will probably discover that you get much better tasting and longer storing garlic when you grow your own from selected cultivars than the garlic you get at the local supermarket. Enjoy.
Special Considerations for Your Area
Special Considerations for Central and South Florida -
The further South you go in Florida, the fewer kinds of garlic will have a chance to do well for you in any given year and even in North Florida, your choices are limited. North Floridians should be able to grow most of the things we can, most years, since we are at similar latitudes although ya'll will have a lower soil pH and more rain than we get - garlic loves rain but doesn't like standing water.
In South Florida, your best chances are Creole garlics. If you have sandy soil, you will need to add organic material to it so it will hold water a little longer, and maybe mulch to maintain soil moisture around 50%.
Creoles came in with the Spanish conquerers and even grow in the Caribbean, hence their Creole name; some of their names, Pescadero Red and Cuban Purple or Spanish Morado tell you that they have been grown in the Caribbean area.
Garlics need to be growing in anything that resembles a cool season because the heat of oncoming summer will force them to mature regardless of whatever size they have attained up to that point.
Special Considerations for Texas -
Because Texas spans several ecological regions, different kinds can flourish in different parts of the state, depending on the current years weather. We're in West/central Texas and in El Nino years, we are cooler and get more rain and most kinds except Rocamboles do OK here but in La Nina (hot and dry) years, few garlics do well although the earlier harvesting types have the best chance in dry years as they mature before the grasshoppers settle in to dine. Sometimes the temp gets up to 100 in April and in that stunts the whole crop. Every year is different.
Those in the panhandle have colder winters and cooler springs than the rest of the state and have a better chance of growing more different kinds than those in most of the state. Because garlic grows better in the mountains where it is cooler if it can get decent organic soil and sufficient water, those living in the Davis mountains should be able to grow all kinds, perhaps even Rocamboles.
People living along the Gulf Coast and South and SW Texas should try Creoles first as they are the ones that have the best chance to do well there. The further south you go, Creoles are the only choice. All others are marginal there most years. Artichokes were developed in southern Italy and other warm winter areas and are well acclimated to the conditions. Creoles, on the other hand, came in with the Spanish conquerers and even grow in the Caribbean, hence their Creole name; some of their names, Pescadero Red and Cuban Purple or Spanish Morado tell you that they have been grown in the Caribbean area.
Special Considerations for the Desert Southwest -
All kinds of garlics, including Rocamboles have been grown successfully in Santa Fe and other mountainous areas. In the typical prairie/desert. Flatlands; however, I'm not so sure about Rocamboles, but just about all others should do well most years.
I just don't have a lot of information about this part of the country and am hoping to get more feedback from those who live there what kinds of garlics have thrived for them so I can fill in a little more information here, since I have no personal experience growing there. If anyone who has grown garlics there will let me know how they did, I would appreciate it.
I suspect the cold nights will allow more kinds to do well there rather than just the Artichokes and Creoles. I think Silverskins, Purple Stripes and Porcelains will do well there and also Asiatic/Turban garlics, too.
Special Considerations for California -
Like Texas, there are many topologies in California and where you live pretty much dictates what kinds of garlic you can grow in your back yard. Different kinds of garlics can grow in different parts of the state.
In southern California and Along the coast where it is warm and in most flatland areas, Artichokes and Creoles are going to be the best ones, along with Asiatics/Turbans and Marbled Purple Stripes. The problem with the very early harvesting Asiatics/Turbans is that good planting stock seems increasingly hard to come by. The Marbled Purple Stripe garlics are very large and hardy garlics that have thrived for us most years and should excel in southern Cal.
Artichokes were developed in southern Italy and other warm winter areas and are well acclimated to the conditions. Creoles, on the other hand, came in with the Spanish conquerers and even grow in the Caribbean, hence their Creole name; some of their names, Pescadero Red and Cuban Purple or Spanish Morado tell you that they have been grown in the Caribbean and other warm winter areas. These would be the best garlics to try to grow from San Diego through Los Angeles and out across the desert areas of southern California.
All along the coastline where there are warm winter temps, the southern Cal varieties should be tried first before experimenting with the other hardnecks. The bottom line generally will probably be that if your days are cooler and more spring-like than summer-like, the better chance you have of garlic doing well for you.
In the mountains of central and northern California, Purple Stripes, Porcelains and even Rocamboles can be sucessfully grown if the winters are cold and the springs cooler than the desert below.
Generally, the further North you are in California, the more different kinds you can grow, although Rocambole growing is usually pretty much limited to higher elevations in the mountainous areas.