Vampires beware: these are not the soft necks you’re looking for! Whether used to keep evil spirits away in Europe, as a treatment for infections in China, or to add flavor to a tasty Italian dish, garlic has been an integral part of the human experience for thousands of years. Softnecks are the most common types of garlic found in your local grocery store. They are a great choice to grow because they are adapted to a wider range of climates, and tend to mature later and store longer than hardneck types. Other differences include more irregularly sized cloves, overall higher yield, and failure to produce a flowering stalk (well, most of the time). Different varieties of softneck garlic will vary in intensity of flavor, so be sure to check out your options before planting.
Originating in California, the Silver White silverskin softneck garlic cultivar is one of the easiest softneck garlics to grow, thriving in almost all conditions, including areas with hot summers, cold winters, and damp weather. Each bulb will be at least 1.25″ in diameter and will develop a spicier taste the longer it’s stored.
Seed: Softneck garlic will not produce flowering structures or seeds and must be propagated vegetatively.
Vegetative: Plant individual cloves from last year’s harvest.
Clove Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 4″
Space Between Rows: 12–18″
Sprouting Soil Temperature: 40–50°F
Days for Sprouting: 14
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: 6–8 weeks before first average frost date in the fall for best results. Can be planted in spring if stratified for 8 weeks before planting and set out in the soil as soon as soil is workable.
Softneck garlic prefers warmer climates than its hardneck cousin. As such, softnecks should be planted in the fall just before, or just after, the first frosts. Seedlings will not do well in temperatures below 20°F. If seedlings start to grow before the danger of frost has passed, covering them with a row cover or straw will help keep them warm.
Natural: Full sun. Partial shade in extreme heat.
Artificial: If planting indoors, use HID lamps a foot above plants to help seedlings grow.
Soil: Prefers loamy soil but will grow in most soil media. A pH of 6.0 to 8.4 with an optimum level around 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Plant bulbs or germinate seeds in a soilless mix of vermiculite, coconut fiber, well-rotted manure, or perlite.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in an NFT hydroponic system.
Water: Requires low to moderate watering: around 1–2″ per week during the growing season. Irrigation may be stopped when the leaves start to yellow since this indicates garlic is ready to harvest. It’s best to cease irrigating the plants a few weeks prior to harvesting to keep plants from splitting and allow time for the bulbs to naturally dry in the ground.
Nutrients: Composting soil in the spring will help plants grow. Be wary of adding too much nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorous, however, as garlic is generally a light feeder.
Foliar: Seaweed mix and fish emulsions applied once every two weeks will help bulbs grow.
Pruning: Occasionally, softneck varieties will produce scapes, or flowering heads, which should be trimmed to keep the bulbs growing. Many people cook and eat scapes, so consider saving them rather than throwing them in the compost!
Mulching: Organic mulch may be used immediately after planting; however, this isn’t necessary.
Rotation: A 5-year rotation away from all plants in the onion family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with cabbage family plants, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and strawberries. Avoid peas and legumes.
Harvest: Harvest bulbs when the leaves have begun to turn yellow and dry out. Bulbs can be extracted by loosening the ground around the bulb with a shovel or spade and then pulling. Take care not to shovel too close to the plant: you might damage the bulb. If you’ve already done so, don’t worry! Damaged bulbs can be saved and used for planting in the future.
Storage: Bulbs can be stored by hanging in an aerated, dry location with the tops attached. Once dried, garlic will keep for long periods of time without any refrigeration.
Fun Fact: This variety of garlic was developed in California and is one of the most widely grown and used types of garlic in the US.
Preserve: Garlic may be stored dry or can be pickled in vinegar. It may also be dried and powdered or frozen in oil. If freezing or pickling, take care to read instructions carefully to avoid any risk of botulism.
Prepare: Used in a wide variety of dishes, garlic can be sautéed, roasted, crushed, or eaten raw. Garlic can be peeled by hand or smashed with the flat side of a knife to remove the papery skin. To easily peel a whole head of garlic, place in a bowl or pot with a cover and shake vigorously. This will remove the skin of the head all at once!
Nutritional: A good source of vitamin(s) B6, C, manganese, and germanium.
Medicinal: Traditionally used since ancient civilization, garlic has been cited as having many health benefits from lowering blood pressure to acting as an anti-inflammatory. Germanium has also been shown to assist in lowering the risk of certain cancers.
Warnings: Perhaps because it’s so frequently cited as a “cure-all,” reports have been made of individuals experiencing adverse reactions to garlic. Consult your physician before using garlic topically for any reason as it can cause burns or inflammation. Allergies to garlic and other plants in the onion family may also occur.
For a hearty alternative to garlic bread, try these Garlic Smashed Potato Cakes.
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