With just the right amount of summer heat and winter chill, the Rogue Valley's climate can grow some of the world's best garlic, with big bulbs and cloves. If you're a garlic lover, you'll be amazed at how many varieties are available and how easy it is to grow your own. It's the right time to plant, and gardeners should find a good selection of seed garlic being sold locally and on the Internet.
There are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks tend to be poor keepers (3 to 5 months). They usually have large cloves that peel easily. Silverskins, soft neck varieties, are favorites because they're easier to grow and produce larger bulbs than most other garlics. Their pliable necks make them great for braiding and the cloves stay nice and firm for up to nine months. They also tend to have more, but smaller, cloves that are difficult to peel.
With the holidays just around the corner, entertaining is on everyone's mind. Here's a delicious dish created by herbal writer Ellen Scannell that will not only highlight your homegrown garlic, but is easy to prepare, made in advance, and travels well.
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 or 2 garlic cloves, put through press
½ cup finely chopped dried tomatoes in oil, well drained
½ cup basil pesto (purchased or homemade)
Beat cream cheese, add sour cream, butter and garlic and beat again. Use a 4-cup clear serving dish to show layers. Place layer of tomatoes, evenly cover with ½ of the cream cheese mixture, sealing the edges. Evenly spread and seal pesto over this layer, then spread with the remaining cream cheese. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours and set out to warm slightly before serving with your favorite crackers. Yum!
How do you choose which varieties to grow? Well, it depends on what you want to do with the garlic and how hot you like it. With about 600 varieties of garlic to choose from, it's a matter of personal taste. Teri White, garlic grower and owner of the Runnymede Farm in Rogue River, recommends growing 'Chinese Pink' (not from China) or Italian because they are ready to harvest about a month earlier than other varieties. They're great for braiding and are good keepers. Others she recommends are 'Music,' 'Korean' (hottest) and 'Chesnok.' Angelika Curtis, another garlic grower and owner of Wild Bee Honey Farm in Eagle Point, suggests 'French Silverskin' because it's a long keeper and has a mild flavor. If you're looking for a hotter variety, she recommends 'New York White.' These growers will be selling garlic at the Medford Grower's Market through the season.
A raised bed is best for garlic. This prevents bulb rot in our poor-draining clay soils, and, since garlic is a heavy feeder, helps provide more nutrients than our faster-draining granitic soils possess. Incorporate composted plant matter and animal manure before planting and add a balanced fertilizer, such as 13-13-13 or 10-20-10 if needed. Make sure your soil has a pH between 6.5 and 7 for best growth.
Garlic can be planted from late September to the first of November. Planting too early can promote rotting or freeze damage during winter; planting too late may cause the cloves not to form. Choose garlic cloves that are the biggest on the bulb and carefully break them off and plant them two inches below the soil surface with the root plate down. Water one inch per week until the rains come, and keep the area well weeded, being careful to not damage the roots in the process. Side dress the garlic with a balanced fertilizer or composted manure in April. If you've planted hardneck garlic, a flower scape will form in the center. Cut out this edible stalk on each plant for two reasons: It drains energy from the bulb and it's delicious in a salad or sauté.
Harvest your crop next spring, when about one-third of the leaves turn brown, usually in June and July. Using a garden fork, lift it out of the soil and put it in a shady, dry place to cure for 7 to 10 days. Carefully brush the dirt off the bulbs and braid or cut back the dried leaves, leaving a 1 to 2-inch neck. Your garlic is ready to enjoy.