My garlic has been yellowing and falling over for the last few days, much sooner than last year, so clearly it was time to dig them. Of the 5 varieties I planted, I knew one would have small, poor quality bulbs because I discovered too late that end of the bed (which was new last fall just before planting) doesn't drain worth a hoot.
I planted 1 hardneck, 3 softnecks, and 1 Creole variety. Although I have not counted the bulbs, I'd estimate close to 200 from my garlic bed. I'm still experimenting to find the best garlic to grow in my area, and I try several new varieties every year. I've grown several good ones so far, but no clear winner yet.
Here's some info about this year's varieties I grew:
Hardnecks According to many garlic lovers, hardnecks have the only ‘real’ garlic flavor although I am a garlic lover and I heartily disagree. Hardnecks are distinguished by the stiff “neck” or stalk in the center of the growing plant and they tend to have fewer but more uniform cloves around the stalk. There are three distinct groups of hardnecks: Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain.
Purple Striped (hardneck) garlic is aptly named for the stripes which all have to some degree. The differences in Purple Stripes in taste are from mild to pungent, and in time to maturity.
The hardneck I grew is Siberian, a Marbled Purple Stripe variety. Prized for its high content of allicin. This helps boost the immune system and improve circulation. Extra large, easy to peel cloves. With mild delightful flavor, not overpowering, 5-7 giant cloves/bulb, heritage, thrives in cold climates, stores 5 months. (I have not dug this variety yet, ran out of daylight last evening.)
Softnecks Artichoke garlics (sativums or softnecks) are the most commonly grown commercial garlic because they are easier to grow and produce larger bulbs than most other garlics. They store well and this is what you probably buy at the grocer's. I grew Red Toch, Susanville and Shantung Purple.
Red Toch: An import from the Republic of Georgia, near the town of Tochliavri. Red Toch has large bulbs with a pinkish tint. Harvests early in season - stores 6-7 months. Semi-rich but very mellow. Grows very well in warm winter areas. It is not quite as mild as Chet's and not quite as strong as Inchelium Red. Red Toch averages 12 - 20 cloves per bulb, medium heat.
Susanville: (above) is a favorite softneck for braiding (although I don't braid them); the beautiful purple skin adds nice color to a braid. A true garlic flavor that is more flavorful then hot. This softneck can handle cold winters. 12 - 15 large cloves. Early to mid harvest. Stores 7 - 8 months. [Medium heat]
Shantung Purple: This Turban Artichoke garlic variety originates from China, but my seed stock came from Washington (USDA certified organic). A great garlic for varied climates, it can handle hot dry climates as well as cold northern climates. Shantang Purple packs some serious heat, especially when eaten raw. 6 - 8 cloves per bulb.
The Creole Garlics
With a name like Creole, one would naturally assume these garlics originated in Louisiana, but they really were cultivated in Spain and initially spread by the Conquistadors. Creole garlics were first classified as silverskins although they don't resemble other silverskins in any way. Botanists assured us, however, that they were genetically silverskins… but it turns out not to be so. They are in a class all their own, and gaining popularity with Creole (and other) cooks.
Creoles are among the rarest and most expensive of all garlics, and a little difficult to find.
These garlics are superb for eating fresh, with an initial sweetness that builds in heat. They typically have 8-12 red to purple cloves per head beneath a white skin, and are tolerant of adverse growing (weather) conditions especially in hot climates. Not all garlic cultivars are well suited to growing in mild winter and warm to hot spring climates but the Creole group do very well in warmer climates. Creoles are also longer storing garlics than most.
This year I grew Keeper: Longest storage quality of all the hardnecks and is in the Creole group. It has dark purple stripes, wonderful hot flavor, plump 5-9 cloves/bulb, mid-harvest, stores 6-7 months.
After digging, remove as much dirt from the roots as possible, but do not wash. Put them in dry warm shade with lots of ventilation, but do not bunch them. Hanging them in a shed is ideal... tie a few stalks together, depending on size, and hang from the rafters. An ideal temperature for curing is around 70º-75ºF. They need plenty of room around the bulbs so they do not mold. After about 2-3 weeks they should have developed a dry papery skin.
To store the best bulbs for cooking, cut off all but about 1/4" of the roots, and cut the tops well above the bulb (1"-2" so the papery skin stays intact. This skin keeps the garlic from drying out too fast. A light brushing should remove just the dirty outer skin, but if you are in doubt about damaging the bulbs, skip this step. A little dirt doesn't hurt the garlic in storage. I mark the variety on a mesh bag, and hang them in my root cellar. If you don't have the luxury of a root cellar, choose a cool, dark space that isn't too dry.
To store any bulbs (including damaged bulbs) for fall planting, I leave all of the root intact. I don't make any attempt to clean the bulbs, either. I also mark the variety and hang in a mesh bag in my root cellar until time to plant.
After this garlic has sufficiently cured I will make several recipes to test the taste of each one. I'll post the recipes and taste results when I do, probably not until fall.
Thanks to Hood River Garlic for the specific descriptions of my garlic, which I ordered from them last fall.