It's a rare gardener who doesn't use garlic to spice up Asian stir-fries and Italian pesto made from fresh produce, and right now is the...

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It’s a rare gardener who doesn’t use garlic to spice up Asian stir-fries and Italian pesto made from fresh produce, and right now is the perfect time to plunge some plump cloves into moist soil to supply next year’s meals.

In the Seattle area, garlic is planted from late October to mid-November, so there’s still time to prepare a bed for springtime sprouting.

Choose a site

Find an area in full sun that hasn’t had “heavy-feeding” vegetables growing on it, such as squash, corn or broccoli. Garlic will do well following a cover crop, peas or Asian greens. It’s best to practice a three-year crop rotation to prevent diseases.

Prepare the soil

“Garlic likes a nice, rich loam,” says Tom Cloud of Filaree Farm in Okanogan, which sells over 100 varieties of seed garlic.

Good drainage is vital to ward off rot, so if you have heavy clay soil, create a raised bed. You can improve soil structure short-term by adding compost.

Resources for bulbheads

Where to order:;

Test yourself: Think you know garlic? Take the Garlic IQ test, index.cgi/garliciq.html.

Organic garlic-growing:

Read more: “Growing Great Garlic” by Ron L. Engeland; “Garlic is Life: A Memoir With Recipes,” by Chester Aaron.

You can plan to build next year’s garlic bed by growing and digging in cover crops. Test your soil, and add ground limestone to “sweeten” it if necessary. Garlic likes a pH in the neutral 6-7 range, and our soil is generally slightly more acidic. Dig in a balanced, slow-release fertilizer.

Find your favorite

Charles Davis, a gardener in Matthews Beach, bought two varieties last fall, one Greek and one Italian. “I got a bumper crop,” he says, “which I turned into three beautiful garlic braids that now hang above my sink, in easy reach for cooking.”

Choose a variety based on your taste and use — mild or strong, seasoning or baking.

“Softneck” types with pliable stems make the best braids. “Hardneck” types send up flowering stalks, called “scapes,” that are delicious in stir-fries in the spring, when they’re cut to encourage bulb growth.

The biggest cloves come from some softneck types, but the hardneck types are often the easiest to peel.

Garlic from grocery stores or friends may grow well, but you may also be getting an unknown plant virus. Buying certified plant stock from providers or nurseries is safer.

When to plant

“Nov. 1,” Frank Parente says flatly. The Whidbey Island owner of Gourmet Organics grows about 30 varieties. He recently self-published the book “Garlic: Grow West of the Cascades,” available at Whidbey farmers markets.

But Jim Salter of S&M Garlic, selling at the Kingston Farmers Market and Port Townsend co-op, plants all through November.

The bulbs should gain some root growth before the ground becomes too cold, to enable a quick shoot of growth in early spring. Choose the largest bulb, break it apart into cloves, trying not to strip the cloves of their outer peels.

Plant individual cloves, pointed tip up, about 1 to 2 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart, in rows no closer than 1 foot.

Help it grow

Protect the garlic bed with a straw mulch, which gets removed when the green shoots poke through, and keep the bed free of weeds (the mulch will help).

In early spring, you can encourage leaf growth by adding a high-nitrogen fertilizer. If the weather is dry, water to keep the ground slightly moist.

Remove the scapes when they start to curl. If not cut until they’ve fully curled, the resulting garlic head may be harder and store longer.

To prevent mold, reduce watering in mid-June.

Harvest and store

Starting in mid-June, “look for the bottom two leaves to turn brown,” advises Parente, “then pull up one plant to see if the bulb looks ready.”

If the cloves are plump and outer skins tight, harvest the crop. If not, wait until 40 percent of the leaves are brown.

Most garlic is harvested by early July, a few varieties as early as May.

Use a large garden fork, not a spade, and loosen the soil under the bulbs to avoid damage. Shake off excess soil, then hang the whole plant, stem up, in a well-ventilated place.

Garlic will keep growing while it cures, says Parente. It will dry in three to four weeks, after which the leaves and stems can be trimmed for storage.

Store in an open basket in a dry place with a consistently cool temperature.

Bill Thorness is a freelance garden writer in Seattle: