I know of two types of garlic – soft neck and hard neck. Toward the end of summer last year and on a whim with an abundance of garlic bulbs I planted both soft and hard neck garlic. I separated the cloves from the bulbs and planted each “toe” root end down about two inches deep. I can’t remember if we had a lotta rain or if I was just diligent about watering, but within a week or so they had sprouted leaves and by the time we had our first cold snap they were probably a foot tall.
They quickly died back only to pop out of the dirt in the spring along with the daffodils, arugula and chard.
By mid April the hard neck variety was already beginning to flower – not really a flower per se but “scapes” began to appear on the central stalk of the hard neck plants.
Well it turns out that the scapes when young and tender can be snapped off as far down the central stalk as is tender and then cooked up like asparagus. They had a wonderful mild garlic flavor with just a slight crunch to them when I used them in a stir fry.
As the scapes develop on the plant they make a couple loop-d-loops and then straighten back out – this process took about 2 weeks, once they straighted back out the stalks lose their tenderness and I read it is either time to cut them off or let them go to “seed”. Each scape becomes a mini clove of garlic. I cut about half of mine off and put them in a vase where they continued to develop into mini cloves – after about a month they have formed cloves and are beginning to develop the characteristic purple skin.
I have now harvestest about a third of the plants – and this is done when about half of the leaves have turned brown – some of the bulbs are pretty small still and these are the hard necks that I did not remove the scapes from. My home grown garlic is very mildly flavored right now – I used an entire large fresh creamy white head in a batch of humus over the weekend and needed to add a store bought clove to bring it up to the garlicyness I like in humus! I imagine as they continue to dry they will develop a stronger garlic flavor.
The soft neck variety does not produce scapes. And I am finding it is more strongly flavored than the hard neck. This year I will plant even more garlic – and both kinds – the soft neck is what is used for the braided garlic you see around and I want to have enough to make a braid next year. This weekend on PBS’s Diary of a Foodie, the Gourmet Magazine show, they featured garlic and I learned that the soft neck variety will store for 6 months and the hard neck for 4.
Click here for a fun very interesting NPR interview with a garlic grower in California