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Saving Garlic For Seed – How to choose

Greetings, my little cheeseburgers! Here at Chez Siberia, it’s harvest season and this weekend, your Aunty dug up the garlic that she planted last fall. It’s always fascinating to see how things have done, taking into account the weather over the summer.

To reprise, this summer weather was not the best. Wet early, then hot and dry. Then brain-fryingly hot while the DH and I were away with little rain. Then very rainy when we got back. Not the best Rx for veggies that grow under the ground, which are very dependent on temperatures and steady water. (note to self: take vacations AFTER harvest time – everyone will be much much happier)

So, this summer for things such as onions, beets, carrots and garlic has been stress-city. And I could tell when I dug the garlic patch up that 3 out of the four varieties of garlic I planted last fall were not happy campers at all. Which is saying a LOT since garlic is one of the easiest and most forgiving of veggies.

I planted two varieties of hard neck garlic (which is called ‘hard neck’ because the stem dries up, gets hard and stays out there like a flag pole for you to see) and one variety of ‘soft neck’ garlic (and ‘soft necks’ are just the opposite – the foliage dies down when the garlic bulb has matured and is ready to dig up). The soft neck garlics did make bulbs, but the bulbs were small and the cloves of garlic were even smaller, which is a definite disadvantage in terms of how we store garlic. We dig up the bulbs, wash them off, separate all the cloves, peel them and freeze the individual cloves on a cookie sheet, putting them into zip lock(tm) bags for use as we need them later. Peeling zillions of teeny garlic cloves today was patience-trying to say the least.

One of the hard neck varieties just went nuts and bolted, sending out flower heads (after we’d gone on vacation; I HAD cut off the scapes earlier in the spring to prevent this but I think the hot dry weather just sent a message to the garlic plant to do whatever it could to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ out there), which developed into bulblets at the top of the plant. This totally drains the energy from the grown bulb underground, so I ended up with a crop of bulblets (which I can plant in the garden this fall) at the tops of the plants, and teeny weeny garlic bulbs underground. Can we spell ‘disappointment’? The soft neck garlic was just blah.

The winner was one of the hard neck garlics – Music, which actually was a replacement for Siberian Garlic which the provider no longer had when I ordered. The description reads: “Mid-season. Music hits the top of the charts when it comes to yields. In trials at Michigan State University, Music out-produced all others with a harvest of over 13,500 pounds per acre! White skinned with just a blush of pink, this garlic makes big cloves that are easy to peel. The taste is a medium hot, true garlic flavor that lasts for a long time. Music will store 9 months to a year. Very cold tolerant.”

As you can see from the photo at the top, ‘big cloves” is not an overstatement. The bulbs were about 3-4″ across with the cloves as wide as 1.5″ at their widest point. Very impressive, given the lack of water and super hot weather we had in July. So, I chose the three largest bulbs, cleaned those up and will be using those cloves to plant soon for next year.

There are all sorts of reasons for choosing a particular garlic that has done well in your garden to save for seed the next year. In the case of Music, it was not just the huge bulbs with super big cloves. Another thing is resistance to soil molds. With the rain that came after the hot dry weather, some of the other garlic bulbs were showing mold issues. Another thing, and I realize this is sort of picky on my part but this drives me nuts, is that the other varieties tended to shatter. That is, the bulbs tended to break apart as I was digging them up. Now, I supposed this is not a big deal but any clove I miss in the dirt becomes a volunteer the next year. Which is not a terrible thing but if I am making a conscious choice for a particular variety, I don’t want any refugee cloves hanging around in the dirt. I didn’t chose that variety for a reason. In the case of Music, the cloves remained firmly attached to the hard neck and the growth plate at the bottom. No shattering. Another definite advantage.

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  1. Lyle says:

    Congratulations on your garlic harvest! I’d like to offer some advice that might help you a little bit.

    Judging from your pictures, I’d say that the most likely reason so many of your heads shattered when you harvested them is that you waited way, way too long to harvest. If you wait until every leaf on the garlic plant is brown and shriveled, then the wrappers will be very brittle.

    You should harvest garlic when about 50% to 75% of the leaves are brown. Some garlic old timers say to harvest when you only have 5 green leaves left on the plant. But if you wait until the entire plant turns brown, the heads will be much more likely to break apart when you dig them up.

    P.S. If you liked Music, you should try German Extra-Hardy. It’s large, hot, & delicious. If you don’t like heat/pungency, but crave garlic flavor, try Chet’s Italian Red. Good luck next year!

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    ooo, Lyle, thank you so much for your tips. We certainly don’t claim to know everything here and this is great stuff. German Extra-Hardy, hunh? I’ll have to start ‘digging’ (sorry) for that.

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