As far as I’m concerned, garlic gets the blue ribbon when you grow your own. It’s incredibly easy to grow, it tastes great, and it takes up so little ground that even with a very small garden you can grow enough to have in the kitchen for a good part of the year.
I’ve been growing garlic for many years and every July when it’s time to harvest, it never ceases to amaze me how bountiful and plump the bulbs that emerge from the ground are.
Garlic is one of the oldest known cultivated plants. Long known for its healing and medicinal qualities, it was eaten by Greek athletes as a stimulant before competitions and by soldiers before going into battle. Today, it is believed to have antibiotic and antiviral effects that prevent and treat colds and flu.
There are nearly two hundred varieties of garlic, ranging in flavor from mellow to pungent, and sweet to bitter. The two primary types are soft neck and hard neck. Soft-neck garlic is the variety most widely available in supermarkets and has soft, braidable stems. Hard-neck garlic, native to colder regions such as the northeastern United States where I live, is known among chefs as gourmet garlic because it has a better flavor and is easier to peel.
For the best flavor and storage, you want to harvest your garlic when about 1/2 to 2/3 of the leaves have turned brown and the bulb has achieved maximum size, but before all the outer skins of the bulb, or wrappers, have dried up. Each leaf above the ground is actually a wrapper below ground. The wrappers provide protection during storage.
I like to use a long, thin spade or garden fork to dig it out. Place your spade a few inches from the bulb, push it into the ground at an angle, aiming for a few inches below the bottom of the bulb, then push down on your handle to lever the bulb up and out.
Gently shake off the excess soil and then hang the bundles of garlic by their stems in a dry shaded place with good air circulation for around three weeks. Once the leaves have completely dried up, they can be cut away and the garlic is ready to use.