Since it’s been abnormally warm and dry, I was hesitant to plant garlic early (like late September) like I have some years, but then October arrived and has almost departed and I’ve barely had time to catch my breath, so I only now got my garlic in the ground. I’ve planted as late as a week into November before and been fine, so I’m not concerned.
(If I sound like an expert gardener, feel free to read about my massive failures my first years trying to garden and know that if I can learn how to grow food well, anyone can. And the good news is that garlic is really forgiving and doesn’t take much work at all.)
Our winters are mild enough that there’s a good window of opportunity. Even an early spring planting in March tends to grow a pretty decent crop, though the bulbs are pretty small and they are better eaten as spring garlic.
Spring garlic (or garlic greens, as they’re also known) are generally picked anytime between February and June before the base of the garlic expands into the bulb that becomes a head of garlic. They have a more mild garlic flavor and you can use all of the plant minus the roots (like green onions).
We use a ton of garlic greens during the spring in early summer in just about any recipe that calls for garlic. It does fantastically with sautéed asparagus or in 10 Minute Ramen.
So if you don’t have time to plant garlic this fall, don’t dispair. Plant in the spring as soon as the ground has thawed and you’ll have a ton of spring garlic to eat in just a few months.
A few years ago, we didn’t pull all of our garlic bulbs out of the ground at the end of the year, and they grew back in the spring. We then let some of them go to seed instead of picking the garlic scapes. If you’ve never eaten garlic scapes before, hardneck garlic shoots up a hard stalk in late spring that curls over at the top. It tastes just like garlic but has a crunchy consistency that’s really good in burgers or in a stir fry.
If you want the garlic to produce a bulb, cut off the scape and eat it so that the plant’s energy is focused on creating a larger head at the end of summer.
However, if you choose not to cut the scape off (or like us, grow so much that you don’t get to it all in time), that garlic scape will continue to grow and mature and eventually grow bulbils, or garlic “seeds.”
In previous years, we’ve just let them go to seed and drop off naturally, and they reseed themselves the following spring. They’ve done so well that we’ve ended up with garlic “grass” and had to give a ton away to our neighbors to keep up with the crop.
The garlic had been in the same spot for a number of years though, so we pulled it all up this fall. Just like anything else, you want to rotate your garlic so it doesn’t get diseased.
In preparation for moving the garlic to another raised bed, I collected the bulbils at the end of the season and waited to replant them until this month.
I’ve never purposefully planted them, so I’m excited to see how they grow. Just in case, and because bulbils take a few years to grow really large heads, I replanted some of our regular garlic cloves as well. Either way, we should have plenty of garlic to eat and give away next summer like always.