How-To Guide to Growing Garlic

Pinterest Pin Growing Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest things to grow in your garden. It really is hard to have a black thumb when it comes to planting this culinary delight. The best part of growing your own garlic is the wide variety available for growth. Different varieties of garlic have their own unique taste profiles and characteristics. Garlic grown commercially mainly come from artichoke garlic. Artichoke type garlic is a softneck variety known for its large size and long storage life. Two traits that are commercially desirable. However, commercial desirability rules out a whole spectrum of flavor dense garlic available to home gardeners.

Garlic has literally been cultivated for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the writings of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The Chinese have used it as a medicinal herb for centuries. It grows wild in many regions (including my backyard). My point is with this long, rich tradition there are many subtleties of flavor in each variety of garlic. Why limit yourself to what is commercially available?


From Medical Botany published in 1793 by William Woodville courtesy of



Garlic Classification

Garlic is a member of the genus Allium which also includes familiar favorites like onions, shallots, leeks and chives. The full botanical name is Allium sativum. This species is further divided into 2 subspecies: ophioscorodon and sativum. Why is this important? Other than being important information for a 10th grade biology class, the 2 subspecies of garlic have characteristics important when choosing which variety to cultivate. The more common names for the 2 subspecies are hardneck and softneck varieties.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck varieties got their name because of the hard stem or neck that grows out of the center of the bulb. When you see those big bunches of braided garlic in charming European kitchens you can be sure that is not hardneck garlic. Because of the hard stem it is not suitable for braiding. Hardneck garlic also is considered to have a “hotter” flavor than the softneck kind. Another unique characteristic is the production of garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the curly-cue shoots that are essentially the flowering bud of the garlic. Growers cut off the scape so that all the plant productive efforts go towards bigger bulb production. But don’t throw them away! They have a delicious mild garlic flavor and can be prepared in a dish all to themselves.

Another important fact about hardneck garlic it its hardiness to colder winters. If you live in a northern latitude you probably will want to choose a hardneck variety. Especially if you are planting in the fall.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the milder flavor cousin to the hardneck variety. This is the type that you will see braided in the charming European kitchens. Softneck garlic has a soft flexible stem growing from the center that makes this possible. Another key difference is softnecks do not produce garlic scapes. You don’t have to worry about removing them, but you also miss out on the yummy goodness.

Softneck garlic is suitable to more milder climates. It is not as tolerant to harsh winters as the hardneck varieties. It doesn’t mean you can grow it in more northern latitudes, but you will have to take care to protect it from harsh winter elements.

Planting Garlic

Garlic is usually planted in the fall. Think tulips and daffodils. The hardneck varieties especially need the long period of cooler temperatures in order to grow. If you live in a northern latitude and want to grow a softneck variety, you may want to wait and plant them in early spring, much like you do onions. If planting in the fall use a thick layer of mulch to help protect the cloves during the winter.

To plant, separate the bulb into cloves. Plant each clove 1-2″ deep about 4-6″ apart. Leave about 1 foot between rows. Plant the pointy end up and the blunt end down. Water if the soil is dry. You want to give your cloves a nice environment for the roots to grow a little bit and settle in for the winter.

Your garlic should be ready to dig in July or early August.  When the leaves start dying back it will be ready for harvest. If planting hardneck garlic, the scapes should start to appear in late May into June.

Garlic has very little to worry about in terms of pest and disease. In fact garlic is a key ingredient in many organic pest repellent recipes. One thing you do have to watch out for is fungus and nematodes. Plant in well-drained soil to minimize the risk. Also mulching appropriately in the fall will help to protect the cloves. As with most fungal infections there is not much to do but remove the infected plants. Do not put them on your compost pile! Nematodes and fungus can remain in the soil after the plants have been removed.

I have had a lot of success growing garlic in my raised beds. I mulch in the fall and then in the spring when the days start to get longer I use a hoop house to really give them a jump start on growth.


Amish Inspired Texas Sheet Cake

Amish Inspired Texas Sheet Cake

Who doesn’t love chocolate and who doesn’t love cake? (Well I have a cousin that doesn’t like chocolate, but she’s just plain weird.)

When it comes to comfort food chocolate cake is at the top of the list and this recipe for Texas Sheet Cake couldn’t be more simple. It literally takes 15 minutes to put together. And the icing, the icing is even simpler than the cake. You just pour it on and spread to cover. Better yet its a recipe that comes straight from Amish country. When it comes to comfort food you can’t get any better than an Amish cookbook and that is where this recipe comes from. Trust me I know, my heritage is dripping with Amish influence.

I love cookbooks and I especially like old cookbooks. Luckily I have a Mom that generously feeds my habit. When she and Dad were downsizing I inherited all the cookbooks she had collected over the years. Many of them were the locally produced variety. The type that were made up of recipes contributed by the members of the organizations that were publishing the books. They were usually fund raising efforts for churches, the high school band, local 4-H club. One in my collection was produced by the workers and friends of the Der Dutchman restaurant in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Anyone familiar with Walnut Creek knows that it is small town right in the middle of Ohio’s Amish Country. If you are ever there stop and eat at the Der Dutchman for authentic Amish cooking. Same as I make, but I don’t have to do the dishes.

This cake is so decadent and so delicious that the original recipe called for 1 full pound of powdered sugar for the icing! I measured it out by weight and it totaled 8 cups. Eight cups of powdered sugar. Talk about rich! However, I’ve done some experimentation and have cut that back considerably. It’s still really rich and decadent, but if you want to use the full 1 pound feel free.

What I love about this cake is it comes together so quickly. It takes about 15 minutes to put it together. The bake time is 15-20 minutes. While its baking you put together the icing. As soon as it comes out of the oven you spread the icing on and let it cool. No need to let the cake cool before you ice the cake. It is a great last minute desert. Most of the ingredients are standard pantry staples. Can’t wait to try it huh? Well, here’s the recipe.


Amish Inspired Texas Sheet Cake


2 sticks butter
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a jelly roll sheet pan (some may call this a cookie sheet, just make sure it has sides)
  2. Melt butter in heavy bottomed saucepan. Add cocoa and water. Bring to a boil on medium heat.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Pour into prepared sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Pretty simple. When making I will measure out my sugar and flour into 2 separate bowls. I’ll add my baking soda to the bowl with the flour. I take this extra step so that I can dump things in quickly. After I bring the cocoa mixture to a boil I will take the pan off the heat briefly and add my sugar, stir it up and then add my eggs and sour cream. I take it off the heat and add sugar first to cool it down a bit so I don’t scramble the eggs or curdle the sour cream.

I add the wet ingredients first (I know sugar is dry, but when it melts it gets more liquid) because when you add the flour the mixture can get a bit stiff. Don’t worry at this point. After I get my sugar, eggs and sour cream mixed in I put it back on the heat to add the flour. The heat helps to make the batter less stiff. I just keep stirring so I don’t burn the flour. Once everything is combined I quickly pour it out into my pan and spread it with a spoon or spatula.

While the cake is baking in the oven start the icing.


1 stick butter
4 tablespoon cocoa
6 tablespoon milk
5 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. In heavy bottomed saucepan melt butter with milk, cocoa and vanilla. Stir constantly and bring to boil.
  2. Add powdered sugar. Stir to combine
  3. Pour on cake immediately after removing from oven.

I usually make this in the same saucepan as I made the cake. Just rinse it out really good. One less dish to wash. I usually have the icing done before the cake is done. I take it off the heat until the cake comes out of the oven, then put it back on the heat to warm it up before spreading on the cake. The icing will harden up as it cools down.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as the Handy Hubby and I do. I’d love to hear how you and your family like it.