For over some twenty years, garlic, the hardneck variety, has had a special spot in the backyard garden. There are numerous advantages for the home gardener. Homegrown garlic has a far superior taste to supermarket varieties which are normally the softneck variety which in general were grown thousands of miles away of even on a different continent. Another big advantage to growing garlic are the numerous health benefits. It is one of the healthiest garden crops around. For thousands of years now, people have used garlic as a medicinal plant as well as a culinary ingredient. Garlic is a low maintenance plant and doesn’t really require a lot of care. A little organic compost and, following the recommendations of a soil test, lime may be necessary (as well as some other minerals and additives depending on the test results). Wildlife, such as the groundhogs, deer and rabbits just seem to stay away from garlic. Nor is it bothered by insects.
In the Beginning
I got my first garlic bulbs from an older Italian immigrant who gave me a couple basic pointers for successful growing. It was a hardneck variety called Rocambole (there are nine listed other hardneck varieties also available). Rocambole is a good choice for northern gardeners. It is exceptionally winter hardy and even laughs at the cold and snow. In northwestern Pennsylvania, some thirty miles inland from Lake Erie, early spring snow storms are rather commonplace. But the garlic doesn’t mind and will continue growing through the snow as pictured above. Garlic, in northern regions is generally planted in October and begins to grow as soon as warmer weather arrives in late winter. A few nice warm and sunny days is all it takes.
Usually anytime from mid to late June or early July, the twisting scapes appear on a flower stalk. The scape is a sign that the underground garlic bulb is reaching maturity and in about four weeks will be ready to be dug. There are several uses for the garlic scape or the first garlic harvest. First the scapes are delicious in many dishes from salads, soups and stews, casseroles and pesto. And they are many of the same health benefits. The scapes can also be left to mature on the flower stalk (Note:there is no flower). The scape will swell with about 50 small garlic bulbs, called bulbils, which can then be planted later in the fall. The advantage here is that a gardener can increase the amount of garlic planted, although it takes about two years for the bulbils to reach a respectable size. Another use for the scape is a little extra income. I have never seen garlic scapes in a supermarket. But on occasions have seen them being sold at Farmer’s Markets or roadside stands. Some growers cut the scapes off as soon as they appear. The theory behind this practice is that the underground bulb will grow larger.
There are many online sources which sell garlic, both hardneck and softneck. Or get to know a local garlic grower and buy some of the best bulbs for your garden. Discover more about the magical scapes at The First Garlic Harvest. Please note: this a a Yahoo Voices Web site which will be discontinued on July 31, 2014.
Or Discover more at Funny Looking but Darn Good