Thursday, 11 September 2014

Grow Great Italian aka Artichoke Garlic

 Hardneck garlic

Most of us here in the northern hemisphere, especially in Canada, are familiar with growing only the hardneck (porcelain) type of garlic. The hardnecks really thrive in our cooler climate and actually require our cooler temps in order to produce, while the softencks are mostly grown in the warmer, southern parts of North America.

   Softenck garlic hanging at the Davis Family Farm
gourmetgarlicgardens.com

There are, however, a few varieties of the softnecks that we, too, can grow here in the cooler climes of Canada and the northern US States. 

Italian Garlic is one of these softneck aka artichoke garlic types that grows successfully in our zone 7 west coast gardens.
Do not plant softnecks in the fall if you live in a garden zone of less than 5, and even in a Zone 5 you will want to mulch your bed to keep it warm enough. You can, however, grow it very successfully even in a zone 3, if planted in early spring and harvested in fall.  

Flavour and Usage
Softnecks are the ones that one generally finds in the supermarkets. They are aromatic, rich and spicy, though without the kick of the hardneck, and rich and bold in flavour. The perfect garlic for roasting on the barbeque, drizzled with olive oil. They are also the variety most used in making garlic salts, garlic powders, and other garlic-y seasonings.   

Growing
Soil needs are the same as the hardnecks... well amended soil with a neutral pH is best. Amend your beds with manure, compost, seaweed, bonemeal, etc... a few weeks before planting for the biggest, juiciest and best garlic. 

Plant in a cross hatch pattern 4 to 7" apart. The closer together that they are grown, the smaller the bulbs will be. 

Softnecks contain a greater number of cloves per bulb, 10 to 14 cloves on average, but may be as many as 20, or more! The cloves are all layered around each other, making for a lovely plump looking bulb that is 2 to 3" in diameter. However, the cloves will be somewhat smaller than the big chunky thumb sized ones that we are used to in our hardneck varieties. 

The plants will be bushier and shorter with strappy grass like foliage, and will not produce the scapes which grow the bulbils (seed heads) at the top.

Lifting and curing
The biggest difference of note for us hardneck garlic growers to keep in mind is that the softnecks will be ready for lifting two to three weeks earlier than the hardnecks! In our area, that means to start checking them for readiness in mid to end June. They will be ready to be harvested when 1/3 to 1/2 of the foliage is yellow. Do not leave them in the ground too long or you will lose the papery husk and any hopes of it storing well. 

When curing, please note that the skins are more layered and tighter and so they will require more time to cure in a really well-ventilated, dry yet shady area. You may even want to open the skin at the top of the bulb to allow for better drying.
The Italian will store well for 9 months, if cured properly.

The best part? These are the ones that you can make into lovely braids! All the more reason to grow one or two bulbs this year ; ) 

Bob's Italian garlic from barleysgardenpatch.com