I don't know about where you live, but here in southeast Michigan almost all of the garlic that you buy in produce markets and grocery stores carries a label "Grown in China." Several years ago I got fed up with the poor quality of this imported garlic and decided to start growing my own. I share it with my friends who are serious cooks and they are blown away by the quality and taste of my home-grown garlic. It's not too early to think about ordering your bulbs for fall planting.

Garlic grows best on fertile loamy soils that are in high in organic matter. Gardeners who can grow onions can grow garlic since the culture is similar. Garlic does well with high amounts of fertilizer. As a general recommendation, apply three pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Follow soil test recommendations for your particular garden soil. The soil must be kept evenly moist as dry soil will cause irregularly shaped bulbs. Heavy clay soils will also create misshaped bulbs and make harvesting difficult. Add organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or compost to the soil on a yearly basis to keep it fertile.

How to Plant Garlic

Choose a sunny location, and till the planting bed to at least 12 inches deep. Thoroughly mix in a 1-inch layer of compost. Wait until just before planting to break bulbs into cloves. Poke the cloves into the ground 4 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, with their pointed ends up. Make sure the cloves are in an upright position. . Setting the cloves in an upright position ensures a straight neck. Be sure to Cover the planted area with 3 to 5 inches of organic mulch, such as hay or shredded leaves.

Types of Garlic

Softneck types grow best where winters are mild, though some tolerate cold to Zone 5. Most varieties do not produce scapes (edible curled flower stalks), but softnecks are great for braiding. Subtypes include Creole, artichoke and many Asian varieties.

Hardneck types adapt to cold winter climates, and all produce delicious curled scapes in early summer. Popular subtypes include porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole varieties.

Elephant garlic produces a large, mild-flavored bulb comprised of four to six big cloves. Closely related to leeks, elephant garlic is hardy to Zone 5 if given deep winter mulch.

Harvesting Garlic

From early summer to midsummer, watch plants closely and pull them when about one-third of the leaves appear pale and withered. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil before pulling the plants. Handle the newly pulled bulbs delicately to avoid bruising them. Lay the whole plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun. After a week or so, brush off soil from the bulbs with your hands, and use pruning shears to clip roots to half an inch long. Wait another week before clipping off the stems of hardneck varieties or trimming and braiding softnecks into clusters. Do not remove the papery outer wrappers, as these inhibit sprouting and protect the cloves from rotting.

Storing Garlic

Garlic must be stored in a cool, dark place. It must breathe and will not store well in a plastic bin or air sealed container. Depending upon how much garlic you have harvested, the plastic net bags from oranges work well for keeping garlic. The key is to ensure proper airflow and to check on the garlic weekly. If any seem to be getting soft, remove them. Should any begin to sprout again, cut off the growth and use immediately. Too much growth will cause the garlic to taste bitter.