Garlic originated in central Asia with long cold winters, damp cool springs and warm dry summers. Since then they have been grown around the world in a myriad of conditions.

Rocambole types need those original conditions to thrive, whereas Artichoke types seem to do well just about anywhere. Silverskin, Purple-Stripe and Porcelain types are tolerant but dislike a hot, dry spring. So, any type except Rocambole could do well around here. (Remember that, in the Bay area, the profusion of microclimates may allow you to accomplish the otherwise impossible. Experiment!)

Planting

Plant in the fall (gently break the bulbs into separate cloves) in fertile, well-drained soil. Raised beds are ideal, although leaner, more clayey soils may increase flavor intensity and storability. Keep soil moist but not wet and let dry out for about two weeks before harvest.

Harvesting

Artichokes mature first, followed by Rocamboles, Purple-Stripes, Porcelains, and then Silverskins.

Hardneck garlic sends up a stalk or scape a month or two before harvest. (There is great disagreement among growers whether or not to remove the scapes as they appear. Cutting may make the bulbs larger, whereas not cutting may increase disease resistance and storability. Experiment again…)

Softneck garlic signals maturity with the browning of the outside leaves. Don’t wait for all the leaves to die down, as the bulbs will become overripe and susceptible to fungal problems and poor storage. The generally accepted moment of harvest is when the top six leaves are still green.

Asiatic Artichoke types are early ripeners and need to be harvested as soon as the lower leaves begin to die down.

Whether your soil is loose and you can pull by hand (lucky soul) or you use a fork or spade, it is important to not injure the bulbs. Any cuts or bruises may spoil your hard earned crop. Gently break the ground and lift the bulbs into a sun protected container. (Remember to label different varieties!)

Curing

Let garlic dry down gradually in a cool (65-70deg F), dry, shady spot. When roots and necks are completely dry (about 2-4 weeks for avg. size bulbs) and do not emit garlic odor when test cut, trim all bulbs. Softnecks can be braided before they are completely dry (still pliable) and left untrimmed.

Washing tends to wrinkle the paper skins and may lead to fungal problems. After curing, removal of an outer paper skin will enhance appearance.

Storage

Do not use plastic bags or sealed containers. Do not store in direct sunlight. In general, Silverskins store the longest, then Artichokes, then Porcelains and Purple-Stripes. Rocamboles have the shortest storage time. (Specific cultivars may vary.) If possible, keep cured garlic between 55F- 65F and 40-60% humidity. Higher humidity may encourage fungal growth. Extended temperatures over 70F can dry bulbs out, lower temps will encourage untimely sprouts. Understand that these are approximate ranges and your pantry may turn out to be perfect for your variety. Garlic (except Rocambole) will keep well for 4 to 6 months between 65-75F with moderate humidity and good air circulation. For small quantities, cardboard egg cartons are good containers.

Buyer Beware

The USDA recommends storing garlic at 32F and most retail stores and suppliers do just that. Garlic stores well at 32F for a few months but when brought out into room temperature it either deteriorates rapidly or sprouts soon after and so is best for immediate use only.