It is early-mid November. Have you put your garlic in the ground yet?
If not, it is really important that you get it in the ground as soon as possible. If you get too busy to plant before the ground freezes, you can do it in the spring as soon as the ground is workable, but for hardneck it’s better to go in the fall so it develops a strong root system for the spring. Here is a more detailed explanation if you should need it.
There are two general types of garlic to choose from: hardneck and softneck. Each has its own strengths, and each is more suited to certain situations than others.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon)
Hardneck garlic varieties are generally hardier than softneck varieties. They are the best option for northern gardeners. They are also the best option if you want to enjoy garlic scapes in early summer, since hardnecks are the only type that send up a strong central stalk in spring (this is the scape.) Hardneck varieties tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but they also are usually a bit larger.
Within the hardneck family, there are nine sub-types of garlics: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain. The Purple Stripe and Rocambole types are the hardiest, best for gardeners who live in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Gardeners who live in mild climates will have good luck with Porcelain varieties.
Softneck Garlic Varieties (Allium sativum var. sativum)
Softneck garlic varieties are the best ones to grow if you live in a milder climate. They don’t form scapes, and generally form several small cloves per head. They mature quicker than hardneck varieties. Softneck varieties tend to store better than hardneck varieties, so this is the type to grow for long-term storage. Sub-types withing the softneck family include Silverskin and Artichoke varieties. (source)
In May, you should start looking at your bulbs, especially if you planted softneck, as they mature earlier in the ground. You want to see a tight, full bulb. Dig gently around the bulb about 5-6 inches and inspect it. If it looks like it’s starting to expand away from the center, pull it. But in May it shouldn’t have started to expand yet, and certainly not if it’s a hardneck type.
In June, hard-neck varieties will produce a scape and flower head. If you like, you may cut the scape before the flower blooms and eat it. I have heard that by cutting the scape, the energy that would have been focused on the flower can be spent on the bulb, but I haven’t seen a considerable difference in size between a flowering garlic and a garlic by which I have stolen and consumed its reproductive system.
Another tip: Last year, I had about 15 garlic plants and my CSA offered garlic scapes as part of our share, so I had quite a bit. I blanched the scapes, wrapped them into individual wreaths and froze them for later use (which I am using now). This is another way to extend your garlic harvest, especially only growing small amounts.
In July, the bulbs will be ready to pull. When, in July, is up to you. Inspect the bulbs frequently as it gets closer to mid-month. Try not to disturb the roots too much, but don’t fret about it either: they’re super hardy plants.
You can easily identify a hardnecck variety in the ground: it has a very firm, robust stalk. Softnecks tend to have smaller, more delicate stalks and will put out a flower with tiny garlic bulbils. As an experiment this year, I planted a couple bulbils to see what would happen. So far, just tiny green shoots.
When you’ve harvested your garlic, you can hang them to dry or braid them. Warning: Hardneck garlic is considerably more difficult to braid, but it can be done.. Here’s a video to show you how:
I hope all this is helpful to get you to enjoy home-grown garlic year-round!