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Planting Hardneck Garlic - Easy, Delicious, Rare!
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Planting Hardneck Garlic  -  Easy, Delicious, Rare!

Hardneck garlic is a crop you can be very successful with in the High Sierra climate. It comes in many flavors and tastes from hot and spicy to mellow or mild. This is not the typical softneck grocery store garlic you are most likely accustomed to buying. The cloves of hardneck garlic are larger and more easily peeled of their papery skin than softneck garlic. Hardneck bulbs or cloves can be readily bought online from growers and planted in your home garden. Cost averages about $20 a pound - around 30 cloves to a pound. Some growers offer samplers and half-pound pricing.

When to plant hardneck garlic:

Garlic should be planted before the ground freezes. In the High Sierra, my always unpredictable climate, generally mid October is a safe planting time.

How to plant:

Prepare your bed with soil rich in organic matter and nitrogen. Adding lots of compost and manure will give the nutrition that garlic requires. The soil should be light and well-drained. My best success in this cold climate has been to plant in a 10 inch raised bed full to the brim with fluffy rich soil, lots of manure and great drainage.

Each clove of garlic will develop into a new bulb of garlic. Handle your cloves carefully so as not to injure them - bruising or nicks can lead to rot in the cold season.

In the High Sierra climate with our cold snow-covered winters, cloves should be planted 5 to 6 inches deep. The pointed end of the clove is the top and should be planted facing up. If planted in the wrong direction, your bulb will not attain an optimum size or shape.

Winter care:

In a cold climate, the garlic should be mulched with a straw or bark mulch that is not too thick or matted so that air can circulate. If the garlic gets too wet it can rot. I have found fluffed up straw to be the best mulch.

When to harvest:

Here in Plumas County, Ca. at 5000 feet altitude, generally late June is the earliest harvest date you can expect. We often have snow on the ground into June, though every year is different.

The garlic will develop scapes which I harvest at least two weeks before the garlic bulbs are harvested. This is said to give the bulbs the opportunity to further develop and grow larger. The plants are so lovely in the vegetable garden when the scapes develop, and the scapes can be harvested and used in cooking as well. Many chefs regard the scapes as a delicacy.

When at least a third of the leaves of the plants are brown and have folded over, test-harvest a clove or two to check for size. If the outer papery skin is well-developed and your bulbs are a satisfactory size, go ahead and harvest your crop. Otherwise, wait another couple of weeks.

Hardneck garlic cannot be braided due to the hard stems - but you can still hang it in bunches tied with pretty ribbons to dry or you can dry it in net bags or on racks. A moderate temperature and good ventilation is key to drying and aging garlic. Below 40 degrees, garlic will sprout, so never store it in the refrigerator.

You can eat garlic raw (immediately after picking) or let it age for about six to eight weeks for mellowest taste. It is truly thrilling to choose a particular garlic variety and taste for your meal from your own organic garden-grown crop, lovely to look at in varied bulb colors depending on variety, and perhaps tied and labeled for atmosphere!

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