Wednesday, October 14, 2015


People have been growing garlic for thousands of years! Utilized both as food and medicine, garlic (Allium sativum) is closely related to chives, leeks, onions and shallots.

What about growing garlic in Sitka?

There are basically two types of garlic for your consideration... HARDNECK and SOFTNECK. You can grow both of these sub-species in Sitka, but will likely have more success with the HARDNECK varieties because they do comparatively well in cool climates.

There are hundreds of garlic varieties from which to choose! Where to begin? We turned to garlic loving, garlic growing friends and acquaintances here in our community! We discovered that some local gardeners are absolutely crazy about garlic. So, yes, we started with recommendations from them. Flavor, size, how well it grows in our climate and how well it stores are all important factors to consider when choosing garlic varieties.

In our climate, garlic is best planted in autumn six weeks or so before you think the ground might freeze. Mid-September through October usually works out well. 

When garlic grows, it forms a bulb underground. Below is a photo of a full grown garlic bulb. This is how a garlic bulb looks after the plant was harvested, dried, the plant top was cut off and the cluster of stringy roots was cut off the bottom of the bulb. 

Peel away the outer wrapper of the garlic bulb and you will see a number of cloves surrounding a hard or soft stem (neck) in the center. Each clove is individually wrapped! The cloves can easily be separated from each other. Leave the wrapper on the clove for planting. Peel the wrapper off the clove for eating.  

Below is a pile of garlic cloves still enclosed in wrappers and ready for planting.

After planting in autumn, each individual clove will gradually grow into a whole new bulb! Mature bulbs will likely be ready for harvest in our climate sometime in July or early August.

For next year's crop, it is best to plant your largest, healthiest garlic cloves. Your inclination will be to eat the largest, healthiest cloves.  DON'T DO IT  Planting the biggest and best will truly improve the size and quality on an annual basis. 

If you have not already grown your own garlic from which to select, then you might be lucky enough to find  local gardeners who have grown more than they need. 

Try the local farmers' market. 
Try Lori Adams' Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden. (I think Lori might be one of those gardeners who is absolutely crazy about garlic). 
Lovely garlic for planting has also been available for purchase from several local businesses in the past including Penny Brown's GARDEN VENTURES and SITKA TRUE VALUE.

Here is a list of some of the hardneck garlic varieties we have grown in our gardens. They have all grown well, tasted great and stored well:



It is fun and interesting to try new varieties. Although we continue to grow as many as five varieties each year, we have narrowed down our 'all time favorites' to two: 

Our first choice is GEORGIAN CRYSTAL. This variety of garlic is extra large, delicious and breathtakingly beautiful... as far as garlic goes! 

We started with medium sized bulbs quite a few years ago and have observed a measurable increase in size each year.

Peel away the satin white wrapper to uncover anywhere from two to six giant, fat, peach-colored cloves. This particular bulb had four cloves.

One GEORGIAN CRYSTAL clove can grow as large as a plum!

The size sure simplifies peeling and handling!

GEORGIAN CRYSTAL flavor is divine... mild, mellow and fresh. 

 It is a welcome addition to most any meal whether raw or cooked. 
GEORGIAN CRYSTAL is known to grow well in northern climates, having originated in the Republic of Georgia near Russia and the Black Sea. It has been easy to grow here in Sitka no matter what the crazy weather during our growing season. And, this garlic stores very well after harvesting and drying.

Our second favorite variety of garlic is PERSIAN STAR. 

Our appreciation of PERSIAN STAR garlic (also known as SAMARKAND) is based almost entirely on how well it stores for us. We were still eating very nice cloves from the previous year's harvest when we were harvesting a new crop in July! It grows well and tastes great with a somewhat nutty flavor. Unlike GEORGIAN CRYSTAL, a PERSIAN STAR bulb has lots of medium-sized, elongated cloves. Each PERSIAN STAR bulb yields eight to fourteen cloves when grown in our gardens.


Planting garlic in fall promotes a little advanced root development during the cold months.

Try to prepare soil for your garlic in advance of planting. Garlic likes rich, fertile soil. We mixed a bunch of seaweed with fish waste in spring and composted it until fall. Just before garlic planting time, we mixed the compost with an equal amount of sand. Sand promotes the good drainage that garlic needs for optimum growth.

Carefully set garlic cloves in your chosen bed or container. Pointed end goes up. Space cloves about 5 or 6 inches apart.

Carefully cover the garlic cloves with five or six inches of fertile soil. Label if you are growing more than one variety.

Gather a bunch of fallen leaves, seaweed or anything useful as mulch. We found some leaves and seaweed mixed together at the high tide line of a beach and layered about 6 inches on top of our garlic rows for protection from freezing through winter.

As the weather gets colder, we will lay some black felt-like construction cloth on top of the entire garlic bed for further protection from freezing. It will be removed when the green shoots of the garlic plants start showing in spring.
We purchased quite a bit of this cloth and use it in various ways in and around the gardens. It has been extremely durable in our gardens lasting many years. Not only does it offer protection from cold, it deters bed erosion from wind and rain in winter and is absolutely terrific for weed prevention in garden pathways.


Garlic greens usually start peeking through the mulch sometime in April. Take off the black cloth, but leave the mulch in place. The mulch will add to the fertility, help with moisture control and discourage weeds. 

Once the black cloth comes off, a floating row cover replaces it! The benefit for garlic of a floating row cover is a significant increase in soil temperature. Rain and the heat of the sun pass through this light weight cloth. The cloth traps the heat. The plants raise the floating row cover up as they grow. Rocks here and there hold the floating row cover in place.

As early as mid-May, the garlic is looking sizable, healthy and happy under the floating row cover!

Towards the end of June, you will see the flower stalks of garlic start to form. They are called "scapes." Removing the scapes will allow the garlic bulbs to be the focus of the plant's energy instead of the flower head.

It won't be long before the scape curls.

When curling happens, it is the best time to harvest scapes. 

Garlic scapes are a delicacy and are so versatile! The flavor is mild and delicious. Chop scapes up and add them to salads, stir fry, salsa, mashed potatoes, omelets, soups, dips, pesto, pasta sauce, pizza topping.  You get the idea. For a real treat, grill whole scapes. Yummy.

My very favorite use of garlic scapes is in pickled beach asparagus. Garlic scapes just happen to be ready for harvest at the same time as beach asparagus and dill weed! 

You can place garlic scapes in a paper bag in your refrigerator and they will last a month or more. 

Scapes freeze well. They are even happier frozen if you vacuum seal them. No need to blanch before freezing.

After the scapes have been harvested, the garlic greens and underground bulbs will grow larger. It is a good idea to eliminate competition for soil nutrients by weeding regularly. Temporarily remove the floating row cover to weed. 

The joy of having a happy helper!


Gradually, the leaves of the garlic plants will turn yellowish brown. Some varieties mature earlier than others. Notice below that the variety on the left looks more advanced even though it was planted at the same time as the variety on the right. 

When about half of the leaves have turned, usually sometime in July or early August, it is time to harvest your garlic. Before you dig up your garlic, check to see if it is at its' prime for harvest. Carefully dig down by hand around a garlic bulb. The size of the bulb should be what you expect. If it looks unreasonably small, replace the soil and wait a week to check again. If the size of the bulb looks plenty big, be sure the wrappers are well developed and display clove bumps. Ready for harvest! 
If the wrapper has opened up and the cloves are separating from the neck at the top of the bulb, then the bulb has over-ripened. Definitely time to harvest! They are still good for eating, but won't store as long. 

It is helpful, but not necessary, to harvest when the soil is somewhat dry. It makes it easy to wipe away the dirt from the garlic bulb. But, realistically, here in Sitka, we might be experiencing our familiar, perpetual rain when garlic is ready for harvest. In such a case, we simply and carefully loosen up the soil under and around the mucky garlic bulbs with a pitch fork or shovel and gently lift the bulbs out of the ground.
Hello Neighbor!

With a hose, gently spray the soil off of your lovely, wet garlic bulbs and roots. Take care not to remove bulb wrappers. Each leaf on a garlic plant extends all the way down to the bulb and is one of the layers of the bulb wrapper. After a little cleaning, this is how nice it can look with a little of the root cut off.

We bring our wet, cleaned garlic into our house and hang it up to dry.

Drying garlic bulbs is also known as curing. The bulbs become more light weight and the flavor improves as they cure. Do not cure your garlic in the sun. Choose a cool, dry, indoor location. Unfortunately, such places as garages and sheds in Sitka are usually too moist to cure garlic. Mold shows up rather quickly.
If, in fact, your harvested garlic bulbs are wet, you might want to set up a fan nearby for a week or so to improve air circulation and drying.

Let the garlic cure for 5 or 6 weeks before storing. 


If you happened to save some used mesh bags, they are great for storing your dried garlic bulbs. We use the orange mesh bags from our local fishing gear store, Murray Pacific, for storing our garlic. It is the same mesh we use for baiting our crab pots.
We hang the bags of garlic in our cool, dark, dry kitchen pantry. Some garlic varieties store better than others. So, it is a good idea to keep each variety in a separate bag. All of the hardneck garlic varieties should store 5 months or longer... if all goes well.


If you grow garlic, or are planning to grow it, then you probably are familiar with its' many uses in the kitchen. I use a considerable amount of our garlic crop in the process of making pesto.  I make a lot of pesto. In the fall, most everything still growing in the garden has been included in my pesto experiments. Garlic is always one of the ingredients. Fresh pesto is placed in containers... and into the freezer it goes to be enjoyed for months to come.
A PESTO post will be added to this blog in the near future.

Most years, we have an abundance of garlic. People who are absolutely crazy about garlic often plant far more than they need, if space is available. 

It is pretty simple to take cured garlic cloves, slice them thinly and fill the dehydrator!  We dry the slices at about 115 degrees until they are crisp. After a visit to the food processor and a blender, we end up with about a quart of garlic granules and a quart of garlic powder.

Fill a pretty little shaker, and it makes a great gift for garlic loving friends and neighbors!


  1. Thank you Florence, for posting such a fun and informative article. Very helpful and informative, and I love the great photos. How lucky we all are that you are so generous with your extensive experience and knowledge. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Andrea. Now that I am getting older, I thought it would be wise to write it all down in case I forget!