Garlic 101 | The Little Veggie Patch Co


Garlic has been placed upon a mantle and worshiped for thousands of years. Civilisations have been built upon this cultural building block, including the pyramids and Nonna’s lasagne. There is evidence to suggest that pharaohs were buried with garlic in their tombs. Gladiators ate garlic prior to battle to give them strength, or perhaps it warded off their enemies with their breath. Aristotle even labelled it an aphrodisiac. In today’s veggie garden growers test their patience for the ultimate patch prize. The worship continues…

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair veggie patch, where we lay our scene. Garlic can be broken down into two families, softneck and hardneck cultivars; the Montagues and Capulets of the allium world. But within their families, there are some divisions.

There is also an elephant in the room. Elephant garlic is considered a third variety, however, it is actually a member of the leek family.

 

Softneck
This family of garlic didn’t achieve its name by rolling out a yoga mat each morning, or through remedially massaging some bulbs. Softneck garlic shoots out a stem that remains soft right through to maturity. They are more suited to warmer climates over their hardneck counterparts, and store very well – lasting up to 12 months in good storage conditions – making them the most common variety you would find in any supermarket.

Of the softneck family, they can then be broken into two groups: artichoke and silverskin. Artichoke garlic are named due to their resemblance to this vegetable type, with a thick outer layer of skin – helping again to improve their shelf life – and revealing up to 20 overlapping cloves. Silverskin have more organised cloves and a thinner skin, making them the preferred braiding variety. Both of these sub-categories are non-bolting, meaning they typically will not produce scapes.


Hardneck
Hardneck garlic varieties sit at office desks all day and scoff at the idea of ergonomic chairs. They also send out a flowering stem, or scape, that turns hard or woody as it matures. These varieties – sometimes referred to as stiffneck (yeah we feel you) – tend to do better in colder climates. Hardneck don’t tend to store as well and can begin to shrivel within four to six months of harvest.

These varieties, with their thin skins, are easy to peel and tend to have more intense flavouring when raw. They are then broken into two sub-categories, weakly bolting (turbans, creoles), that tend to grow better in warmer conditions and will produce scapes late in the season when stressed by cold weather, and strongly bolting (rocamboles, porcelains), that produce their scapes early. Most of the hardneck varieties grown in Australia are weakly bolting varieties.

 

Spring garlic vs Scapes

If you already feel more across American politics than garlic varieties, we’re with you. But let’s throw another spanner in the works….or rather let’s pull the spanner out and provide some clarification. When it comes to scapes and spring garlic – they are not the same thing – but we’ve also been guilty of mixing up the terminology.

Spring garlic are basically the shoots of early harvested garlic. Typically taken in early spring, but they could also be harvested two weeks after planting, they are the green, delicate (DELICIOUS) stems of young garlic. Scapes, on the other hand, are the stems which have the bulbing seed heads. These typically come late in the growing season.


Planting
Garlic has a long growing cycle ranging from 5-9 months depending on the variety and your growing conditions. It is also prone to rotting in wet conditions, like that work lunch left in the fridge that now apparently belongs to nobody. You can circumvent this problem by planting in raised garden beds or making your topsoil friable and free draining.

Prepare the soil with compost and blood and bone prior to planting. Garlic prefers soils that drain well during wet periods and hold moisture when it is drier (though honestly, which plant doesn’t?). Plant cloves into the patch ensuring the thinner tip (from which it sprouts) is pointing skywards.

Garlic is surprisingly FAST to sprout, often within a matter of days in warm conditions. After a month of growing is the perfect opportunity to put down some mulch to a depth of 3–5cm. If you are a visual person, check out our planting garlic video.

Harvesting
Waiting so patiently you may have even forgotten that you planted garlic all those months ago, but 5-9 months later, the clock has finally struck on garlic harvesting time. If you’re scratching your head about when is the perfect time to harvest we have two factors to consider.

The leaves or stem that shot from your garlic clove will start to turn brown, when about half of the leaves have died back is a great indicator for GO time. Secondly, investigate the size of your bulb. Dust away the soil from your baby like Dr. Alan Grant discovering a velociraptor and hey presto. From here you can judge whether or not it’s time to pull your harvest.

Pull the foliage while losing the soil with a hand fork to extract the garlic bulb. Shake off any loose soil and spread them out to dry. After several days, the outer skins and leaves will have dried out and at this stage you can bunch them up or braid them. Be sure to set aside a few bulbs as seed for next season.


Hardneck Varieties

Roja de Castro
This hardneck cultivar tastes as hot and spicy as its name sounds rolling off your tongue. It grows well in most garlic growing regions of Australia, but does not do so well in wet and humid conditions.

Growth cycle:  6.5 – 7.5 months

Creole
Australian grown and organic garlic from the Creole family of hardneck varieties. Prefers hot & dry temperate climates and does not humidity. Besides having a great flavour, it also has medicinal values and is an insect deterrent when grown at the base of many plants. 

Growth cycle:  6.5 – 7.5 months

White Crookneck
This hard neck cultivar is fuss-free and easier to grow than that chia pet you oh so desperately wanted as a kid. It grows well in most garlic growing regions in Australia including NSW, Victoria, SA, WA and Tasmania. It has a nice garlic aroma when cut open. Raw mild with a little bit of heat and pleasant taste.

Growth cycle:  5 – 7.5 months

 

Early Purple
This Australian hard neck cultivar that grows well in most garlic growing regions of Australia except the most humid. Don’t pack its bags and send it to a beach holiday in the far north. It grows best during cold winter weather and needs to be harvested quickly once bulbs are mature especially in warmer, more humid regions. It has a rich garlic flavour, a bit spicy when eaten raw and milder and more nutty notes when roasted.

Growth cycle:  6.5 – 7.5 months


Softneck Varieties

Italian Late
This soft neck cultivar grows well in South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. It requires a cold/temperate climate with cold winters, warm spring and a hot/dry summer. Get out the brush and scrunchies because this variety is great for braiding. Has an extremely strong flavour with a fair bit of heat.

Growth cycle:  6.5 – 7.5 months

Master Jack
An award winning breed created by Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic and grown organically near Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast of NSW. Master Jack is a turban variety an also known goes by the name ‘Garlic Butter King’. It’s not as large as some varieties, but it packs a punch and is arguably the best strong, sweet, nutty and full mouth flavoured garlic in Australia.

Growth cycle:  5.5 – 7.0 months




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