Don’t go crazy worrying about making the right choice. Stick with a proven variety for your first planting and for your growing zone. But when you’re researching the possibilities, go ahead and make a few notes for future garlic adventures.
There are two basic distinctions when it comes to garlic: softneck and hardneck.
Softneck varieties are the kind you usually see in stores, with lots of smaller cloves - whether the head is small or large.
They do not produce flowering stalks, so their stems remain long, soft and flexible; wonderful for decorative braiding.
Generally viewed as warm-weather garlic, there are plenty of varieties that do just fine in Canada, perhaps with an extra layer of mulch protection.
They store very well in the right conditions.
Hardneck varieties produce fewer cloves, but they tend to be bigger with a stronger taste.
They also have long flowering stems called scapes, which you should cut in early summer before they actually flower to send more energy down into the bulb. The added benefit: the scapes themselves! Chop them up and throw them into a salad or a stir-fry for a lovely, mild, garlic taste.
Hardnecks are very winter-hardy, and therefor do best in colder climates. They do not, however, store quite as well as their softneck cousins, but you can count on a supply of garlic for at least six months after harvest.
After making the hardneck verses softneck decision, look for a good source of garlic to plant. Do not source your planting garlic from the supermarket; good quality, non-chemically-treated garlic from a reputable dealer or garden centre is the best route to take.
There are some true and tested garlic variety 'families'for growing in Canada that meet some basic criteria: vigorous plants, large bulbs, and...great flavour!
Here are a few:
- Hardneck variety
- Very hardy
- Large bulbs
- Sweet flavour
- Vigorous plants and easy to grow
- 4-6 easy-to-peel cloves per bulb
- Hardneck variety
- Widely grown in Canada
- Cold-hardy (requires cold temperatures to thrive)
- 7-10 easy-to-peel cloves per bulb
- Deep, rich, complex flavour
- A favourite with garlic lovers!
- Hard-neck variety
- Cold-hardy (requires exposure to cold temperatures to thrive)
- 8-10 cloves per bulb
- Cloves have tight skins, which helps them store longer
- Great for roasting
- Sweet flavour intensifies as they age
- Soft-neck variety
- Suitable for Ontario, Quebec and eastern Canada
- Named for the way cloves are arranged within the bulb
- 10-14 various-sized cloves per bulb
- Can be stored for 8 to 12 months
- Good flavour, though less complex
Note: There are various garlic varieties within each variety family. For example, Russian Red is a wonderful high-yielding, hardy, heirloom variety with a strong flavour that is excellent when cooked, and it belongs to the Purple Stripe garlic family as well as the gorgeous Chesnok Red.
This fall, when you carefully plant your garlic cloves, just imagine the aromas filling your kitchen less than a year from now. Let the countdown begin...now!