A bounty of green garlic, garlic scapes, and the classic cured bulbs can all be yours with a little bit of planning.
The highly nutritious garlic plant has very few calories and countless proven health benefits—but even better, every part of the plant is edible and it’s incredibly easy to grow.
Cathryn Henning, manager at Wild Willow Farm, indicates that late fall or early winter is the perfect time to plant it.
“There are two types of garlic available: softneck and hardneck,” Henning explains. “Hardneck varieties form a garlic scape towards the end of maturity, which are delicious chopped up in a stir-fry. However, most hardneck varieties do best in cold climates.”
Start by selecting a garlic variety suitable for our mild winters, like the Donostia Red grown at Wild Willow. Spicy and delicious, this hardneck Creole variety is from the Basque region of Spain, which has a microclimate similar to ours. This variety yields a vibrant fuchsia color at the base of the stalk and bigger cloves thanks to our warm winters. Henning suggests planting mid- to late-autumn.
“Garlic is considered a holiday plant. Plant on Halloween to harvest on the 4th of July. This doesn't always work out with our mild winters, and we typically harvest mature heads as early as May. It’s best to plant garlic in October, although in San Diego, folks have success planting as late as the end of November.”
Garlic for growing can sell out fast but should only be purchased directly from a seed company or from a local nursery, adds Henning. “Our favorite online company is Adaptive Seeds and our favorite local nursery is City Farmers. Purchase garlic in whole heads and separate into individual cloves just before planting. Keep the paper intact to protect the clove from rotting in the ground. Garlic will sprout shortly thereafter.”
Henning advises keeping garlic beds well weeded. “It hates competition,” she says. “We like to mulch our garlic with alfalfa to not only keep the weeds down and moisture in, but to also provide an additional source of nitrogen. Garlic is considered a heavy feeder, so make sure it has plenty of nitrogen bioavailable when you plant.”
One thing in particular to love about garlic is that it can be harvested in various phases.
The green garlic adorning local San Diego farmers’ market booths in early spring are the young shoots of the plant that can be eaten before the bulb begins to form; they’re similar to scallions in appearance but carry the rich flavor of garlic.
To harvest green garlic, opt to either collect the green shoots by trimming off what you need so that the plant can continue to mature, or harvest the whole plant and enjoy in place of garlic cloves in any recipe.
Once you've harvested all the green garlic you want, let the plants continue to grow.
Garlic scapes will appear and be ready to harvest on hardneck varieties just before the plant fully matures. Try these in my personal favorite, maneuljong-muchim, a spicy Korean garlic scape salad made with gochujang, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame seeds.
“Once the outer three or four leaves die off, turn off the water and pull away the mulch, allowing the plants to put their energy into bulbing up and away from leaf production. Be patient and make sure those leaves have fully died back before harvesting and curing,” says Henning.
Leave harvested bulbs unwashed with stalks and roots intact, and cure in the shade for three to four weeks. Properly cured garlic typically last six to eight months, keeping you well stocked for the year.