Clove to Bulb: The Story of Garlic

Thank goodness for garlic. It is a plant that keeps on giving all year round. At this time of year, we have reached the end of the garlic life cycle. We harvested our garlic crop at the end of July, and it is just now finished curing. Soon the cycle will begin anew as we plant the cloves for next year’s harvest.

We grow hard neck garlic here at Cedar Circle Farm. Many years ago, we purchased our initial seed garlic (the variety has since been lost to time). Every year after the late summer harvest we ‘grade’ the garlic bulbs and choose the largest to plant for next year. As this process has gone on over the years, we have selectively chosen large bulbed plants that are specially adapted to our farm’s climate and growing conditions.

Garlic is planted in the fall, usually at the end of October or early November. Much like the day we harvest it, it requires all hands-on deck to plant the cloves in the ground (pointy side up). Timing the garlic planting can be tricky. We aim for 2 to 3 weeks after the first frost and before the ground freezes. If the soil is too warm the clove will sprout and not survive the cold. If planted too late, the clove will not produce enough roots to survive the winter.

If all goes well, in the spring the patch will be thinned to give the plants more space to grow bulbs. The plants that are pulled out don’t go to waste. These are called ‘green garlic’ and have the look of leeks with a mild garlic flavor. They can be used like scallions to flavor stir fry, eggs, stock, and more.

In late June we cut the scapes off of the garlic plant. ‘Scapes’ are the flower stalk of the garlic plant. By cutting them off we force the garlic to put its energy into the bulb and not into flowering. Scapes also have a wonderful garlic flavor and can be used to make pesto, pickled, grilled like asparagus, or used like a garlic clove.

After the scapes are harvested for the year we will continue to pull immature garlic plants to provide garlic to the farmstand. In late July, if the weather has remained hot and dry, the garlic should be ready to harvest. The easiest indication that the garlic is ready is a dry, brown stalk.

After the garlic has been pulled, we hang it in a hot dry place to cure. Curing is the process of drying out the first several layers of papery skin. After the bulbs are done curing, the dirt can be brushed off and the stalks snipped. They are ready to store over the winter! Garlic stores best in a cold (33-38 degrees) and very dry place. You can find storage garlic in the farmstand starting this week!

The many ways we enjoy garlic. Clockwise from left: Scapes, green garlic, slightly more mature green garlic, and garlic flowers (i.e. what happens when you don’t remove the scapes!).

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