I still cultivate softnecks (Allium sativum ssp. sativum), in part because the bulbs can be stored for up to 12 months, giving me a marketable crop year-round. But it’s hardneck garlic (A. sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) that excites my chef-customers: The cloves have a complex, wild-garlic flavor, and the scapes, or central stems, can be used like supercharged scallions in salads, soups, and stir-fries.
My business partner and I sell the biggest bulbs – of both subspecies – as planting stock, through our website and the garlic-festival circuit, for $18 a pound. The smaller, “culinary grade” bulbs bring $10 per pound at farmers markets and restaurants near our Berks County farm.
As if a never-ending market season and dual (growing and cooking) consumer bases weren’t enough, there’s another reason to grow garlic for a living. You can plant the cold-hardy crop (Zones 4”“8) this fall, in fields left vacant after the harvest of summer crops.
[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Planting[/mf_h2]
For best results, work two yards of well-composted manure into every 1,000 square feet of soil a week or two before planting (around Columbus Day in eastern Pennsylvania’s Zone 6). Select the largest cloves from the biggest bulbs and space them 6 to 8 inches apart, sinking each clove two lengths deep, root-end down. A week later, to protect the cloves through winter, conserve moisture, and suppress weeds come spring, cover the beds with 4 to 6 inches of straw or 3 inches of chopped leaves.
[mf_list_sidebar layout=”basic” bordertop=”yes” title=”12 Great Garlic Varieties” aftertitle=”Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) boasts a complex flavor and produces scallion-like scapes, but the bulbs store for only 4 to 6 months, while the milder softnecks (A. sativum ssp. sativum) can last a year in storage. The following heirloom picks include both subspecies.” separator=”no”]
- Bogatyr Big cloves with a piquant kick
- Chesnok Red Great for roasting, relatively mild taste, stores for 6 months
- Chinese Pink High clove count, mellow flavor, good for eating raw
- Creole Red Winner of many taste tests, rich and earthy flavor, large cloves
- German White Very robust flavor, good for roasting
- Music Large, medium-hot cloves, long-lasting flavor, very high yield
- Purple Glazer An excellent roasting choice, no aftertaste
- Spanish Roja Easy peeling, with a peppery heat
- Tibetan The hottest garlic, matures early but doesn’t store well
- Chet’s Italian Red The colder the winter, the hotter it gets
- New York White Mild flavor, stores well, also called Polish White
- Transylvanian Superspicy, long storing, does well in cold climates
[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Harvesting[/mf_h2]
Cut the hardneck scapes in early summer, after they have emerged and curled back upon themselves. Dig up all the bulbs in mid-summer once softneck leaves flop over or those of the hardnecks turn brown. Use a spading fork to carefully loosen the soil around and below, then pull them up gently, to avoid separating the bulbs from their stalks. Brush off any excess dirt.
[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Curing[/mf_h2]
Group the bulbs in bundles of a dozen or fewer, and tie their stalks together. Hang in a warm, dry, low-light area and fan the bulbs out to ensure good air circulation. Softneck varieties will store for up to a year; hardnecks, 4 to 6 months.
[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]The Bottom Line for Garlic Farming[/mf_h2]
Cost and yield may differ considerably, depending on the type of garlic grown. The numbers below are based on the super-prolific hardneck variety Music.
- Cost per pound (planting stock): $18
- Required to plant 1 acre: 1,000 pounds
- Maximum yield in pounds per acre: 10,000
- Return per pound (culinary grade): $10
- Return per pount (planting stock): $18
- Gross return per acre: $100,000”“$162,000 (minus equipment, labor, soil prep, etc.)
You’ll find a good selection of garlic bulbs at territorialseed.com and at the author’s website, garlicspot.com.