Garlic is an essential ingredient in virtually every cuisine around the globe and in every savory dish we cook, yet we rarely have a chance to fully appreciate just how delicious fresh, homegrown garlic can be. That’s an easy fix, though, and this is a great month to fix it.
Native to central Asia, garlic has been cherished for its culinary and medicinal qualities for thousands of years and is one of our oldest horticultural crops so hundreds of named garlic varieties are available, many of which are suitable for home gardens.
Garlic varieties typically fall into two classifications — hardnecks and softnecks. Hardneck garlics, which are so named because their stems are stiff and inflexible, generally grow best in colder climates and produce larger bulbs with stronger flavors. Softneck garlics, which tend to grow better in warmer climates, produce softer, more pliable stems and smaller bulbs with milder flavors. Within each of these categories, however, are myriad varieties offering flavors ranging from hot and spicy to buttery and nutty so there’s lots of deliciousness to explore in the garlic world.
Though often touted as an easy crop to grow here in Alabama, garlic isn’t always fool proof, so I asked someone with hands-on garlic-growing experience for a few hints.
That someone is Sabrina Mauro, co-owner of Wicked Garlic LLC in Ardmore, Alabama. She and her husband, Adam, began growing organic garlic eight years ago for their family and last year decided to turn that hobby into a small farming business. They just completed their first year of selling their products, which include fresh garlic, garlic seed and powders, at farmers markets and online.
According to Sabrina, the primary rule for garlic growing success in Alabama is understanding its growing season.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you need to plant garlic in the fall and let it grow for nine months,” she said. That means planting it anytime from October through December in most parts of the state and into January and February in south Alabama.
Choosing the right variety is also important, she said, and the Mauros experimented to figure out what worked best. “We planted three varieties of soft necks, which did great,” she said. “Then we decided to do some hard necks, and they did great, too.”
The Mauros’ tried-and-true varieties, which she said will grow well throughout the state, are softeneck garlics Lorz Italian, Silver white and Inchelium red and the hardneck variety Chesnok red. But Sabrina plans to keep experimenting with other varieties including elephant garlic (which is actually a leek) and she recommends home gardeners start with reliable varieties but also experiment with a new ones, too.
The good news is, it’s easy to plant several varieties at a time because garlic doesn’t require much space. The Mauros plant in raised beds on a five-by-five-inch grid and two inches deep but garlic can also be planted in pots and other containers.
While there’s lots more to learn about growing garlic (see resources below), Sabrina offered a few basic tips to get started.
• Use a loose, well-drained soil and provide garlic six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
• Keep beds or containers well weeded.
• Harvest, usually in late May or June, after stems turn yellow about one-third up stalk.
• Save biggest bulbs to replant cloves next year.
• Try to buy seed early (May or June if possible) and grown in the South so it will be adapted to the region.
To learn more about growing garlic in Alabama and the Southeast, check out “Add Garlic to Your Garden” (publication ANR-1093) at aces.edu, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s article on growing garlic at southernexposure.com/garlic-growing-guide/ or follow the Mauros on social media (they’re on Facebook and Instagram). Then enjoy the deliciousness!
Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at email@example.com.