One of the earlier—and perhaps more unfamiliar—crops you can plant in your vegetable garden is green garlic, sometimes also called spring garlic.
Green garlic is simply immature garlic plants harvested early (April to May here in zone 6a), when they are about the diameter of a pencil. Bon Appetit states that “the immature garlic bulbs and edible green stalks have an amazing nutty-oniony flavor that is great fresh or cooked,” and who am I to argue with Bon Appetit? Use them wherever you would use onions, scallions, or leeks.
On the farm, I have found that green garlic is a great way to utilize the smallest garlic heads (around here called dinkers, or dinks, or el dinkerinos when we’re not into the whole brevity thing), heads that are not suitable for seed, for distribution through the CSA, or for sale at farmers’ market, and that would otherwise go to waste. I imagine it would also be a good way to use up heads in the root cellar in late spring that are about to or already have sprouted. For the home grower, most any variety of garlic will work for green garlic, though do be wary of conventionally grown garlic heads. These are often sprayed with a chemical to inhibit their sprouting and won’t grow when planted, so be sure to stick with stuff that’s organically grown.
For earliest farmers’ market sales, I will plant the cloves in mid- to late fall, the same time as the garlic I grow for mature heads. If I am planning to distribute the green garlic through the CSA, however, I will plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, which makes sure they are ready to be harvested the first weeks of June. So it’s not too late for you to plant green garlic in your garden right now.
When planting, I simply put the whole head of garlic in the ground, root end down, about two inches deep and six inches apart, in four rows also about six inches apart. (This is the same spacing I use for the rest of the garlic.) You can certainly tighten this plant spacing, up to three inch spacing in rows three inches apart. I plant whole heads so I can harvest them in market-ready bunches, thus saving time, but you might find it more convenient to harvest the green garlic a single plant or two at a time. In that case, break the head apart into individual cloves (a process called “popping”) and plant each one root end down, pointy end up, at the depth and spacing discussed above.
Green garlic is delicious, and a welcome vegetable at a time when green things for the table can be scarce. I hope you will give growing it a shot. Happy gardening!