Garlic 04.08.08 02Regular readers of Biodynamic Treechange will know from an earlier post in April, Garlic’s Up, that we were pretty excited about having our first crop in the ground and watching it grow.

I thought it was about time for a progress report, and all in all, matters are moving along very well, as the images here show.

Since the Garlic’s Up post, where we’d planted half the bed with seed garlic, we’ve been able to find a few more varieties from a couple of other local growers, namely a rose pink French variety and a Giant/Russian variety, so we now have a full bed of garlic.

What I’m discovering is that there is a vast variety of cultivars, and each with differing common names that are far from uniform – which is why my botany teacher drummed all those Latin names into us back in College – as without a set of naming rules to follow, we’d be in a right mess.

Here is some background information for those of you keen to know about the finer details of garlic, courtesy of Natural Food Hub

There are three main kinds of garlic; ‘common garlic’, which is the usual white skinned supermarket type plus the silverskin types generally used for braiding and available at farmers markets; ‘hard neck garlic’, which is much less common; and the third kind, ‘elephant garlic’, Allium ampeloprasum, has absolutely enormous cloves, but is not a true garlic, rather a leek.

Common garlic Allium sativum Soft neck Garlic, Italian Garlic, Silverskin Garlic.

There are two main ‘types’ of common garlic – the so-called ‘artichoke’ garlic’s, and the ‘silverskins’, with either very white, or white blushed rose outer skins.  The bulbs of the common ‘artichoke’ types outer parchment is white, or off-white. There is usually a row of decent sized cloves around the outside, and irritatingly smaller, thinner cloves in the interior. As we all know, removing the skin from these cloves is not easy. This garlic keeps well. Silverskins have the strongest flavour, and have numerous small cloves. They are very white, and the neck is sturdy and well suited to plaiting. The ‘Creole’ sub-group of the silverskin type is atypical, because they have only 8-12 cloves, are mild, and have a rose coloured outer skin.

Hardneck Garlic Allium sativum var.ophioscorodon – Serpent Garlic, Stiffneck garlic, Rocombole Garlic, 10 clove garlic, Top Setting Garlic, Bavarian Garlic, Porcelain Garlic, Purple stripe garlic.

These garlic’s have a stiff, sometimes thick, neck, usually with fewer, even sized cloves arranged around the central ‘neck’. Cloves number from four to twelve or so, depending on the variety. They are generally less reliable in changeable weather conditions than soft necked garlic’s, with the exception of the rocombole type.
The most distinctive of the three main hardneck types is ‘Rocambole’ Garlic. This garlic is similar to common garlic, but has two important differences. First, unlike common garlic, it throws up a flowering stem, called a ‘scape’. Second, the bulb has relatively little outer parchment. This last difference has a positive and a negative side. On the negative side, the individual cloves are often exposed, can be knocked off the bulb by rough handling, and can wither a bit after long storage. In addition, the bulbs don’t look anything like as attractive as bulbs of common garlic. On the positive side, they are a dream to remove the skin from -it is trivially easy- there is only one ring of decent sized cloves arranged around the woody central flower stalk and no smalls or thins, and it keeps almost as well as common garlic if stored carefully. The tall flowering scape , for reasons of its own, makes a twisting loop as it unfurls it’s ‘flower’ head (which contains not flowers, but tiny little bulbils). Thus it’s alternative name, ‘serpent garlic’. Clipping the flower stalk off early on significantly improves bulb size.
Purple Stripe Garlic has very white, thick, bulb skins, streaked with bright purple. They are quite a variable group, with some strongly flavoured, some mild, some mid season,some late maturing. They store fairly well.
Porcelain Garlic includes varieties with few (4-8), large fat cloves covered in a very thick, very white bulb skin. The taste is usually strong. They store moderately well if free of disease. Porcelain image at Filaree Farms

These links provide excellent additional information and photos.

Artichoke garlic varieties  Gourmet Garlic Gardens have a very good page on the 12 or so varieties of ‘artichoke’ garlic, listing the pros and cons of each variety.                  Garlic types, history, and virtues Gourmet Garlic Garden have a photo-illustrated guide to the kinds of garlic in general – both hard neck and soft neck garlic, and their taste differences and more.
Chinese purple garlic image at Garlic Foods. This is an extremely hot garlic with characteristics intermediate between soft and hardneck types.
Asian Rose image at Gourmet Gardens. (An early, very hot cultivar.)

Tips for growing

Ideally, a deep, fertile, very well drained soil is needed with a pH above 6.0.( Ideally,  pH 6.5 -7.0). The incorporation of lime and lots of well rotted compost at least a month or so before planting will prove beneficial. 

When to sow

In warm temperate areas planting occurs in autumn through to early winter. Under warm temperate climatic conditions autumn planted garlic will remain dormant for a few weeks, then develop roots and a shoot. With the onset of the cold of winter growth is fairly slow until temperatures warm in spring. The cold of winter is needed to initiate the side buds that will ultimately grow and swell to become cloves. The lengthening days of spring are the signal for the initiated but undeveloped side buds to start forming into cloves. Early Spring is also an option, but definitely not the preferred choice. 

In temperate areas, plant after the first good frosts of autumn. Spring planting is possible in the higher latitudes, as the longer day lengths promote bulbing, but the shorter season means the bulbs are often smaller. Autumn garlic will produce roots, but either no, or short, top growth. If the garlic sprouts have emerged, they will survive freezes and snowfalls, but they should be mulched heavily (about 15 cm/6 inches) to prevent heaving. Pull the mulch aside in spring. 

Tricks for growing satisfactory bulbsGarlic 04.08.08 01

The causes of satisfactory production come down to the quality of the ‘seed’, growing conditions, the variety, the vagaries of the season, and disease. 

Best possible drainage
It is important to have a free draining soil. Cloves put in early in winter will have a longer cold treatment and will respond to lengthening days more quickly than those put in later, there is always a risk of the cloves rotting in a cold wet soil. Commercially, the seed cloves are often soaked in rugged fungicides prior to sowing to minimize this problem, an excellent reason for growing your own chemical free produce. Excellent drainage is very important to give the edge on climate and disease.

An unreasonable advantage
The better the leaf growth before bulbing starts, the bigger the bulb and the cloves will be. This translates to ‘early care pays dividends later’. Provide a free draining soil by amending it with sand, potting mix, well finished compost, leaf mould, or whatever. Consider a raised bed, or large tub culture. Once they have started growth in spring, give them regular – say fortnightly – applications of liquid manure. Note that garlic competes poorly with weeds so keep the the bed as close to meticulously weeded as is possible. An application of mulch will assist in weed suppression, and also help to conserve water in dry conditions. Dry soil when the leaves are developing affects the yield quite badly, so water them well and regularly in dry periods.

Use the most suitable variety
Some garlic strains will just not bulb satisfactorily in your area. Garlic varieties are adapted to a fair range of day lengths, intensity of cold, and accumulated heat conditions. Don’t expect all varieties to do well in your area. ‘Wrong’ varieties may grow very well, but not bulb properly, re-growing from the barely formed new season cloves without the top dying back and without forming a proper bulb at all. Try locally sold seed cloves. They may well be- but certainly not certain to be- the best variety for your climate. In mild and cool climate areas ‘rocombole’ garlic is far more forgiving of the vagaries of climatic conditions than common garlic. Equally, in hot areas, the Creole silverskin types are far more reliable than most other garlic’s.


The plants are ready to harvest when the foliage has died off, or mostly died off. Rocambole is almost always ready to harvest a month or so before common garlic. But the state of the foliage is the indicator, not any particular date. An experienced Italian American home garlic grower passes on a valuable tip for refining the estimate of when to harvest common garlic- 

    "Once the top part of the plant has begun to turn brown, pull one of them and peel back the sheaths one at a time. My grandfather liked to wait until there were 2 sheaths, but I’m more comfortable with 3 to 4 sheaths. The problem with only watching the top part of the plant is that when it’s very wet or very dry, the sheaths can reduce much faster than in other years. 

    For example, it was very wet this year in Pittsburgh, PA, where I live and garden. The plants had just started to turn brown when I checked the first one. It was already down to 3 sheaths!!! You might want to warn people what happens if they wait too long – the garlic opens up and it’s nearly impossible to get out of the ground. (And the garlic you do find is already starting its growth cycle, so it doesn’t keep.)" – RC, Pennsylvania. USA

If you intend to keep your own clove seed, select the biggest and best bulb. Leave the cloves on the bulb, and at planting time select only the best cloves to use as seed cloves. But store your seed bulbs in a relatively cool, dry place-heat in storage can cause the seed cloves to develop into a plant that produces a single large clove , rather than a normal multi clove bulb. Prolonged very low temperatures can also disrupt proper growth. 


Store garlic in a dry place – the kitchen is OK, and towards autumn (if there is still some left!) check for soft bulbs (rotting internally), and sign of insect damage, discarding any that are damage. The ideal storage conditions are in temperatures of around 10 C/50 F, in a dry, well ventilated area. 


And what types are we growing I hear you say? Well we’ve got some Elephant, some Austral, and a pink French variety, with the majority being a regular softneck artichoke type. Expect the next update around harvest time in late November.

Image credit organic maven

Near River Produce - Real food direct from our farm located on the NSW Mid North Coast