Growing Garlic (Part Two)

When we left off from Part One of this tale of garlic, I had just finished my second garlic harvest — July 24th. The heads were smallish, but the outer paper was intact, and I could easily rub the very outermost layer off to get rid of the dirt.

I read that the next thing to do was to hang the garlic to dry. So I did. Our garage ended up smelling like garlic for most of the summer, in fact.

On August 5th, I harvested the garlic that was growing in the front of our property, by the driveway and the main road. Some of the heads were larger — almost normal-sized.

Most of the heads, though, were as tiny as the others I’d already harvested.

Yield from harvest #3

As I harvested, I realized that I had waited too long to get the remainder of the garlic; the heads had begun to lose their outer papers, and many cloves were separating. I’d try to brush the dirt off and end up popping the entire head apart. I continued the harvest, though, to prevent future volunteers. (I’m sure I didn’t get them all, and that’s OK.)

A few days later, as I was digging up the cute little garlic volunteers from my bed of peonies, I saw that Neighbor Jim had dug up the one that he’d found growing in his garden and set it up against the fence, presumably to dry. No joke, it was almost the size of my fist. Hello, jealousy. Guess that’s what happens when this garlic grows in an uncrowded and well-cultivated environment.

My neighbor's single head of garlic

That’s a good sign, though! It means that intentionally planting the larger cloves from this year’s harvest should result in some decent-sized heads next summer.

Eventually, that’s what I did. As I was processing the garlic that had been hanging from the peg-boarded walls of my garage, I set apart the largest head for planting in my tiny vegetable garden. Come October, it was planting time.

Planting Garlic

(Looking at this photo after the fact, I see that I was really so excited to plant my garlic that I didn’t do as much cleanup and preparation as I could have. Also, see that tiny sprouting bulb to the upper right of the garlic clove? That’s one of my zillions of hyacinths. I transplanted it to a new home, don’t worry.)

I planted each of the cloves about a foot apart and a couple inches down. Later in the fall / early winter, I did see that they’d started to sprout a tiny bit (as expected). A couple of the cloves were somehow no longer buried in the soil, so I replanted them where they belonged. I doubt that all of them will take, but I’ll be curious to see how many actually do.

As I was processing my cured garlic, I set apart the next-largest heads for gifting to others. They were still smaller than a golf ball — maybe the size of a ping-pong ball, or a walnut — but they were bigger than most of my harvest. I put them in organza bags (for lack of small but un-fancy mesh garlic bags) and gave these two small bags of garlic to two co-workers.

Bags of garlic for co-workers

The remainder of the not-tiny heads went into organza bags for my own use. (The tiny heads I had thought I might make into garlic powder, but I threw them away instead — several months after the fact.) I currently have two bags of very small heads of garlic sitting on my kitchen counter.

I first attempted to cook with it back in October, when I made some cauliflower sauce. As promised, home-grown garlic does appear to be much milder than commercially grown. That first time, I didn’t use nearly enough. Just this past week, I sauteed some baby spinach with probably half a dozen cloves of home-grown hardneck, and it was still too mild. Since the cloves are both small and mild-tasting, it’s a challenge to figure out how much to use — but I’ll figure it out soon. I hope.

I don’t cook with it often, so I worry that this year’s batch will go bad before I have the chance to harvest and cure next year’s.┬áSigns that garlic has gone bad are when it’s mushy, brown, dried out, or moldy. Sprouting garlic is still OK to eat, if sharper-tasting. I actually found some garlic cloves beginning to sprout while I was making that sauteed spinach, and I decided to plant them in a pot indoors to see what will happen. (The previous occupant of the flowerpot on the windowsill had long since gone to The Great Greenhouse In The Sky, so I had a pot of dirt ready to go.)

I had planned to try roasting some garlic in the oven, but discovered that the heads were entirely too small to use the whole-head method, and the cloves were too small and challenging to peel to use the method of roasting peeled cloves, so I decided maybe I’ll wait until I have some larger heads next year. (Hopefully.)

Other plans for next year include cutting the garlic scapes (now that I know what they are) and using them in recipes; using the topsets in place of minced garlic; and planting the topsets to grow more teeny garlic scallions. (Actually, I think I can only do one of those two things with the topsets, depending on what variety of garlic I have, so I guess I’ll find out as soon as I try to cook with the tiny garlic grains.)

The ironic thing about all this is that I never used to be a big garlic fan. Since my house gave me garlic for free*, though, I’ve suddenly found that I like it a whole lot more.


* Free, of course, meaning not purchased from the grocery store. The time spent is worth the reward.


References: We Grow Garlic,, Good Housekeeping, Serious Eats

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