Few herbs are as versatile and beloved as garlic. It has been grown since ancient times and is a key ingredient in diverse cuisines from Italian to Chinese and Mexican. Garlic is easy to grow as long as you plant it at the right time of year. In mild-winter areas where the ground doesn’t freeze, garlic is best planted in fall and harvested in early summer. In colder areas, plant in early spring for late-summer harvest.

You may think that garlic is garlic, but there are actually many varieties. Nurseries and mail-order catalogs offer selections with names like ‘Inchellium Red,’ ’Chet’s Italian Red,’ ‘Susanville’ and ‘Chinese Purple.’ Varieties vary in flavor, size and color, and perform differently under varying climate conditions. Experiment with different varieties to see which do best for you. Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks. It produces huge bulbs with mild flavor.

Plant garlic in full sun and well-drained soil. Purchase disease-free cloves (often called sets) from nurseries or mail-order catalogs. Plant them about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart with the pointed side up. Leave 12 to 15 inches between rows. Fertilize and water thoroughly.

Garlic is ready to harvest when the tops start to dry out and fall over. Gently lift the bulbs with a spading fork and allow them to air dry (if it’s very hot move the bulbs to a shady spot to dry). When dry, cut off most of the tops and store in a cool, dry spot out of direct sun.