• Jere Folgert

Questions About Garlic?

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

1. How Many Garlic Varieties Exist?

I fell in love with Music garlic many years ago. I loved the name and, like a crescendo in a music score, Music is spicy and intense with a sweet tang! Music is Forte at our GroEat Garlic Farm as it is tangy and sassy, and the inner cloves are big and plump. Music is only one of many named cultivars of garlic

Botanically, all culinary garlics are in the species Allium sativum. There are hundreds of named cultivars of garlic available in the United States and Canada. A few examples include: Chesnok Red, German White, Polish Hardneck, Persian Star, Armenian, Floha, Georgian Crystal, Georgian Fire, German Extra Hardy, German Stiffneck, Hadrut, Krasnodar White, Kyjev, Leah 99, Leningrad, Majestic, Montana Zemo, Music, Northern White, Polish Jenn, Romanian Red, Rosewood, Stull, Vostani and Whiskey Fire. Selecting which garlic tastes best in your favorite dish, or which ones will grow well in your garden - can be confusing and laborious. Although the twentieth century was generally viewed as catastrophic for crop diversity, garlic was one of the century's big diversity winners. There were three "named" garlics cultivars available in 1903; in 2004, there were 274.

Science has provided garlic growers and garlic connoisseurs, definitive information about the confusing subject of garlic groups and varieties. In 2003, Dr. Joachim Keller of the Institute the Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben Germany, and Dr. Gayle Volk of the USDA in Colorado, used science to perform DNA analyses of garlics. They classified garlic into ten distinct groups including;

  • Five hardneck varieties called Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, and Rocambole.

  • Three varieties of "weakly bolting" hardnecks that can produce softnecks - Creole, Asiatic and Turban.

  • Two distinct softneck varieties; Artichoke and Silverskin.

Five hardneck varieties called Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, and Rocambole.  Three varieties of "weakly bolting" hardnecks that can produce softnecks - Creole, Asiatic and Turban.  Two distinct softneck varieties; Artichoke and Silverskin.
Ten Distinct Garlic Groups

In 2005, Dr. Volk and David Stern of the Garlic Seed Foundation led a project in which 10 cultivars, one of each of the 10 types, were grown by garlic farmers in twelve locations around the United States and Canada. The cultivars were ‘Ajo Rojo’, ‘Chesnok’, ‘German White’, ‘Inchelium’, ‘Purple Glazer’, ‘Red Janice’, ‘Sakura’, ‘Siberian’, ‘Silverwhite’, and ‘Spanish Roja’. The small-scale farmers were provided with planting stocks from the same original sources and were asked to grow them on their farms for two consecutive years using their best practices. At the end of the study, harvested bulbs were analyzed for quality, wrapper color, yield, clove characteristics, and elemental composition.


Cherry, Robin. Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind Garlic.

Gayle M. Vol, National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, U.S. Department of

Agriculture, ARS, 1111 S. Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Stern, David. Friends of Garlic, Inc., Rose, NY 14542-0149

HORTSCIENCE 44(5):1238–1247. 2009. Phenotypic Characteristics of Ten Garlic Cultivars Grown at Different North American Locations.

2. Where do I Buy Garlic Seed?

A huge variety of garlic seeds, from all over the world, are available from seed companies. Small farms such as GroEat Farm, Filaree Farm, Territorial Seed, and Hood River Garlic, carry a great selection of garlic bulbs for sale. Buy garlic bulbs that are grown from these trusted growers for the best quality and flavor. "We've had people buy garlic from us one year, and they come back the next year holding a handful of garlic, happy as can be, because they've finally been able to grow garlic." - GroEat Farm

3. Can I Plant Garlic from the Grocery Store?

Yes, you can plant garlic cloves purchased from a food grocery store, farmer's market or food co-op. Try to find garlic from a local supplier. Keep in mind that most supermarket garlic comes from China and it’s often bleached and treated to prevent sprouting. Some of the China-based garlic is dead on arrival and will never sprout. To test if your garlic is alive or dead, put it in the fridge for a week or so, then take it out. Cold treatment followed by warmth tends to stimulate sprouting. The garlic found in grocery stores may not feature the high quality or disease resistance of seed garlic, but it will sometimes sprout and produce bulbs. Seek locally produced garlic in supermarkets (look in the organic food section) and ask your produce manager if they know of any garlic sources they have purchased from in the past.

4. Hardneck or Softneck? What is the Difference?

You can choose from three types of garlic: hardneck, softneck and weakly bolting hardnecks. Some are better suited for cooking, baking and other culinary uses than others. Hardnecks tend to have a more complex flavor profile compared to softnecks. Hardneck garlic tends to be richer, spicier, and generally more 'garlicky'. They also have a larger average clove size, which, due to their plumpness, regular shape, and thicker skin, are easier to peel. Hardneck garlic does not store as long, as compared to the the bulbs of the robust softneck.

Softneck garlics are well adapted to warmer climates. It is softneck garlic that you are likely to find in the grocery store, because softneck garlic stores and travels better than hardneck. The types of softneck garlic you are most likely to encounter are Artichokes (with a sub-group of Turbans) and Silverskins. If you live in a warmer climate, softnecks might be a good choice for planting.

Hardneck garlics need to be exposed to cold temperatures for proper growth. This exposure to cold conditions is termed vernalization. Without vernalization, the garlic will not form bulbs properly, producing a single clove that is termed a round. If you live in the northern hemisphere, hardneck might be a good choice for planting.

Hardnecks have a stalk that stems from the center of the bulb and turns rigid and erect at maturity. Softnecks stalks are made up of leaves rather than a central stalk and are limp. Softneck leaves remain soft and flexible at maturity making them ideal for braiding. Erect v.s. Limp? Softneck cultivars, yield a greater number of cloves, between eight and twenty+ cloves per bulb. Cloves are arranged in two or more concentric layers, each wrapped in their own skin. Under less-than ideal growing conditions, a softneck type may partially bolt and grow a short pseudostem which will subsequently produce a small number of bulbils.

5. What Hardneck Garlic Tastes Best?

One of the things I really enjoy is sampling different garlic varieties. Savoring the unique flavours, textures and spicy overtones - of raw and cooked garlic, makes this an exciting experience. It's worth taking the time to learn about the different types of hardneck garlic. What hardneck garlic tastes best? Taste is highly subjective, and physiology also plays a part. It has been shown that our taste buds differ, and some people experience certain tastes (bitter, for example) more or less acutely than others. Hardneck garlic can be spicy or hot. Others say they're spicier, more complex, and altogether more "garlicky." compared to softneck garlic.

There are five different hardneck varieties called Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, and Rocambole. The garlic that most of us cook with is hardneck, so called because its neck is hard, stiff and erect. Hardneck garlic is said to be more flavourful and has a richer, more complete taste as compared to softneck garlic. Harnecks contains a circle of plump cloves surrounding a central staff. Genetically, hardneck garlic is more closely related to the original, wild garlic cultivated 5000+ years ago. Hardneck garlic cloves are easier to peel (and damage) than softneck. Hardnecks are considered superior in flavor—more complex and intense than softneck.

We tasted a variety of hardneck garlics- raw and cooked, and found a wide range of flavors. Your results may differ.

Taste is highly subjective, but physiology also plays a part. It has been shown that our taste buds differ, and some people experience certain tastes (bitter, for example) more or less acutely than others.
Taste of Raw and Sauteed Garlic

6. Can I Grow Garlic Indoors, in Pots?

Yes, garlic can be container grown, even indoors, though growing garlic in pots is a bit of a challenge because the plant has a very long growing season and needs regular watering when grown in a pot, indoors.

If you live in a mild weather area, softneck garlic will grow best. The hardneck varieties grow best in cold weather climates. A Few Rules to Follow. The container should be at least 8 inches deep, wide enough to accommodate a space of 6-8 inches between the planted cloves, and the soil should be fluffy, loose and should be comprised of organic material. Many types of material can be used for the container, from terra cotta pots to a plastic bucket. The growing container needs to have drainage holes. Because garlic is a heavy nitrogen feeder, amend the soil with an organic fertilizer. The best garlic plant fertilizer will be high in nitrogen, those containing blood meal or a synthetic source of nitrogen. Work the fertilizer into the soil and fertilize every three to four weeks.

7. When Should Garlic be Planted?

In the United States, garlic is ideal for growing in (USDA) hardiness zones 3 through 8. Garlic should be planted into late fall as long as the ground can be worked; Sometime between October 15 and November 15. "Eat the small; plant the large". In other words, there is a direct correlation between the size of the clove planted and the size of bulb that will develop from it. Garlic grows best in fluffy, loose, well-drained soil, amended with organic matter. Separate the cloves from the bulbs, Watch This Video to See How. Leave all of the papery covering intact. Soaking the cloves before planting helps prevent fungal infections and promotes healthy growth. Plant cloves, pointy-side up, about 2 to 3 inches deep, and 6-8 inches apart. Cover the planted cloves with four inches of mulch, such as straw, or decomposed leaves. Avoid grass clippings as mulch unless you know for sure, the grass was not treated with a weed killer. About seven to eight months later, clip the garlic scapes (scapes grown on hardneck garlic) so that the plant can put more energy into growing a larger bulb. The garlic bulbs will be ready to harvest when the bottom three or four leaves are brown, and the others are still green; Sometime between July 10 - August 10.

8. Should I Soak Garlic Cloves Before Planting?

Yes, Garlic can be soaked before planting. Before putting the cloves into the ground, we soak them in two "stinky" solutions - that provide two important benefits. If you’ve never done this before and have grown beautiful garlic, that is great news! I offer this suggestion to you, and ask that you be open minded to this garden tip, as it can prevent a tragedy in your garlic patch, and, it has the potential to help you grow even more exceptional garlic. At GroEat Farm, we've observed that virtually every time we've soaked garlic cloves, the treated garlic grows better than the untreated control group.

Garlic Soaking 101.

As I mentioned, soaking garlic provides two important benefits. First, soaking garlic in a solution of water, organic fish fertilizer and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer, and baking soda, for 24 hours, infuses the garlic with a boost of essential nutrients.  Its like a fertilizer marinade, for the benefit of the garlic. The garlic will store this added energy and nutrients until spring.  The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) acts as an inhibitor.  Baking soda is considered a "significant killer" of bacterial suspensions and has been shown to significantly decrease the numbers of viable bacterial cells.   This mixture is effective at killing bacteria and mold that might be hidden on the garlic cloves.  Baking soda is used in many (human) oral health care products. High concentrations of baking soda have been shown to decreased levels of cariogenic S mutans in saliva and plaque on our teeth. Second, we follow up with another short bath of vodka, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which will sterilize the cloves and destroy any mold, bacteria or other bad things that could survive the long, cold winter, and play mischief and create chaos in the garlic patch, next spring.   This short, second soak, acts as an antiseptic, capable of destroying tiny mites hiding in the cloves, fungal diseases and microbes (or at least prevent or inhibit their growth). It doesn't get the garlic drunk.

Let's get Started!

First Soaking : 8-24 Hours.

This first soak is pretty simple. Our ingredient list is baking soda, water, and fish emulsion and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer. 

Let's Begin by mixing the ingredients into a large stainless steel bowl or container.

1 gallon of lukewarm water.

1 Tablespoon of organic fish fertilizer and/or 1 additional Tablespoon of liquid seaweed.

1 Tablespoon of baking soda.

Gently place the cloves into the container, keeping all the garlic labels near each variety for easy identification. Let the cloves soak for 8 to 24 hours. You'll notice at the end of this stinky bath, some of the cloves may have increased in size do to the infusion and added fluid volume in the garlic's interstitial and intravascular space. Some of the garlic may be floating at the surface, others may be on the bottom of the container. Drain the fluid using a colander.

Second Soaking - Quick!

The second soak goes quickly. We place the garlic cloves into a glass (or stainless steel container) and cover with either Vodka, Isopropyl Alcohol 50-70%, or Hydrogen Peroxide. Soak for 10 minutes and drain.

Special Note: isopropyl alcohol is stinky and inhaling moderate amounts of isopropyl alcohol can cause irritation of the nose and mucous membranes, throat irritations, nausea, vomiting, and even difficulty with breathing. Perform this second soak in a well-ventilated area!

Just prior to planting, we let the cloves drain for a few minutes - this process ensures all the liquid is removed. We also wash our hands with soap before handling the garlic cloves as an added measure. Plant within 1 hour of the second soak.

Garden Notes:  

Fish emulsion fertilizer is made from whole fish and carcass products, including heads, eyes, bones, scales and skin. This product is processed to remove oils, and the liquid that remains after processing is fish emulsion. After straining out solids, sulfuric acid is added to the mix, to lower the pH, preventing microbes from growing. A common fish emulsion is: Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1.

Liquid seaweed fertilizer is an alternative to fish emulsion. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is a concentrated formula containing nitrogen and nutrients. Most seaweed-based fertilizers are made from kelp, a variety of seaweed that can grow to lengths of over 40 metres. Trace elements found in organic seaweed fertilizers include magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and nitrogen—all of which are beneficial to garlic. Nitrogen, for instance, is essential to the production of nitrate, a key component needed by plants during photosynthesis.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) - NaHCO3, is a crystalline salt, found in a natural mineral form in nahcolite deposits, and is ground to a fine powder.   Sodium bicarbonate can promote the action of some antibiotics that work against bacterial growth. Owing to its pH regulation activity, sodium bicarbonate reduces the pH gradient across bacterial membranes.  How does sodium bicarbonate work?  It plays both a promoting as well as an inhibiting role in antibiotic action. On one hand, sodium bicarbonate decreases the potency of most tetracyclines as a decrease in the pH gradient reduces protonation of tetracycline and lowers its uptake by bacteria. On the other hand, sodium bicarbonate increases the potency of many aminoglycoside antibiotics, that rely on the increase in charge differential to enter bacterial cells upon a pH decrease due to bicarbonate.  Today, this chemical powerhouse is produced globally, with an estimated volume of 2 million tons per year.   It is found in large quantities in the central salt body of Searles Lake, California, and as concentrations up to 5 feet (1.5 metres) thick in oil shale deposits in the Piceance Basin of the Green River Formation in Colorado, where it is commercially mined. The science of baking soda, this unassuming salt, has a multitude of domestic and industrial uses, including as a food additive, medicine, and cleaning product. 

Isopropyl alcohol is a colorless, flammable chemical compound (chemical formula CH3CHOHCH3) with a strong odor.    Isopropyl alcohol, particularly in solutions between 60% and 91% alcohol with 10 – 40% purified water, is rapidly antimicrobial against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Once alcohol concentrations drop below 50%, usefulness for disinfection drops sharply. Notably, higher concentrations of alcohol don’t generate more desirable bactericidal, virucidal, or fungicidal properties. The presence of water is a crucial factor in destroying or inhibiting the growth of pathogenic microorganisms with isopropyl alcohol. Water acts as a catalyst and plays a key role in denaturing the proteins of vegetative cell membranes. 70% IPA solutions penetrate the cell wall more completely which permeates the entire cell, coagulates all proteins, and therefore the microorganism dies. Extra water content slows evaporation, therefore increasing surface contact time and enhancing effectiveness. Isopropyl alcohol concentrations over 91% coagulate proteins instantly. Consequently, a protective layer is created which protects other proteins from further coagulation.  Vapors are heavier than air and mildly irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat.  It is sold in 50%, 70% and 91% aqueous solution as rubbing alcohol. 

9. Should I fertilize garlic plants?

Garlic takes about nine months until harvest and is considered a heavy feeder. Because of this long growing time, garlic will need a boost of nutrients, especially nitrogen. Perform a soil test to determine nutrient deficiencies. A soil test will identify what your soil lacks, so you can incorporate additives into the soil, for optimum garlic plant and bulb growth. The test is used to mimic the function of roots to assimilate minerals. Based on the results of your soil test, fertilize garlic in the spring (assuming if you planted in the fall) by side dressing or broadcasting a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Fertilize yet again in mid-to-late May. As the garlic plants mature, adding a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen can stunt the bulb size.

How to Test Your Soil:

Thoroughly clean the tools you are using to collect the soil sample. In the planting area, dig four to eight holes six inches deep. Take soil samples from the holes and place samples in a clean collection container. Collect samples from different areas where garlic will be planted.

Who Will Test Your Soil?

Contact your local Cooperative Extension Offices, or a state university. They provide affordable soil testing services. Here is a state-by state listing of testing labs and extension offices.

10. How to Grow Garlic?

Step 1. Prepare the soil for planting garlic. Garlic grows well in "fluffy" soil with good drainage and plenty organic of matter. Adding natural compost and organic matter will help in the biodynamic preparation. Perform a pH test. Ideally, soil should have a neutral pH level around 7.0.

Step 2. Select your garlic planting stock. Order garlic online at GroEat Farm, or purchase garlic from a local grower. The seed stock is one of the most important components of growing garlic.

Step 3. If you obtained garlic seed as bulbs, you'll need to break apart or "Pop" the garlic bulbs to expose the individual cloves. Each individual clove is a garlic seed and it will grow into a bulb. Watch This Video on How to Pop Hardneck Garlic Bulbs.

Step 4. Categorize the cloves by size. Keep the larger and medium-size cloves for planting. Retain the smaller cloves for eating.

Step 5. Plant the garlic cloves sometime between mid October and continue planting garlic thru early November. Don't rush this task, though get the job done before the ground freezes. Plant the garlic cloves 2-3 inches into the ground, at least 6-8 inches apart. After 2 -3 weeks buried in the dark, cool, soil, the clove will begin to produce roots. These delicate white roots help anchor the garlic in the ground and help prevent the garlic from bubbling to the surface during frost heaves.