Photo courtesy of Irish Eyes Garden Seeds
It's day 4 of Garlic Week on Your Garden Show!
Garlic is a family with a lot of members. Two of them, softneck garlic and hardneck garlic, are the same species, Allium sativum (“sativum” means “cultivated"). The third, elephant garlic, is a different species, A. ampeloprasum, closer kin to leeks than to cultivated garlics. All three share the family trait of growing as bulbs made of cloves arranged in a circle and covered by a thin, dry skin.
Elephant garlic is big. A bulb can weigh up to a pound. It has fewer, larger cloves than cultivated garlics (in fact one clove can weigh as much as one of their bulbs). It is also sweeter and milder (almost bland). Some gardeners eat it raw. You can’t count on it to contribute garlic flavor to cooked dishes.
Softneck is the most common garlic because it’s the easiest to grow and keeps the longest. It has many varieties, all with papery white skin and more cloves than hardneck garlic. Good examples: ‘Nootka Rose' and ‘Early Italian’. The flower stem is pliant at maturity. To dry and store a big crop, one method is to braid the stems, making a kind of bulb chain that can be hung on a wall.
Hardneck garlic has fewer, larger cloves than softneck garlic. Its flower stem is stiff at maturity, and curls in a hoop at the tip with a single tapered flower bud that opens to a cluster of small bulbs (“bulbels”). There are three subvarieties (maybe more; the field is in flux). One is porcelain, which has bulbs wrapped in a shiny, white skin (see ‘Georgia Fire'). Another is rocambole (see ‘Killarney Red’), and the third is purple stripe (see ‘Chesnok Red’).
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