There are two main kinds of garlic, softneck and hardneck. Culinarily, they're the same, and they're treated the same way in the garden as well.
The old-timers say to plant your garlic on Columbus Day (early to mid October) and harvest in the spring. This is generally the preferred method, as it sounds like the spring-planted garlic simply doesn't reach the same size (I am testing this hypothesis). Planting in the fall means you need to cover the bulbs with straw (or grass clippings - something to act as an insulator) over winter. This should be removed or thinned in the early spring so the leaves can emerge.
Planting garlic is simple - simply press cloves into the ground, pointy-side-up, about 1 inch down. Cover each one up, and move along. Some people say you can't grow storebought cloves because they're treated, but I've found that to be nonsense. Still, your best bet is to buy from a trusted seed catalog, then re-plant your biggest cloves the following October.
Harvest when the leaves are turning brown and hang in a relatively dry spot for a week or two before clipping off the leaves.
You can get away without fertilizing garlic, but it's not going to hurt. Suggestions often range from 2-3 lb. of 10-10-10 "when bulb formation begins," probably mid-March.
Garlic preservation is simple in some climates, more difficult in others. The general method is:
(1) Pick the garlic carefully - damaged garlic will not store.
(2) Hang the garlic bulb-side-up. I do this by stringing a rope several times around hooks we have in the wall, and poking the bulb through the rope to hang
(3) After a few weeks the garlic will be dry on the outside. That's good enough to pull off the rope and finish drying elsewhere if you'd like.
(4) When the neck is completely dry, another few weeks, cut the stem off 1-2 inches above the bulb. To check this, bend the neck a few times - you should be able to feel whether the inside is wet still.
If done well, the garlic will last a few months like this - just store in a dry place. The catch is that this is slightly more difficult in a humid environment. Don't worry - you only need to store it until October.
If that fails you, you can just preserve garlic in salsas, spaghetti sauce, frozen chili, etc. Don't store it in the refrigerator in oil - I know it looks like that's what they're doing in the store, but storing garlic that way promotes botulism, which is very much not a good thing.
Matt's Garden Notes:
Matt's 2013 Map
2011-12: Planted 12 late SEPT 2011 in really nice sandy soil (flowerbed) - some were storebought and some were from my parents, and I think I got 100% of them to grow. 12 simply isn't enough though - I use probably double that many heads a year (maybe more), plus I want some to grow the following year
2012-13: Planted about 30-32 cloves in mid-October, perhaps lost 2-3 of them due to simply not growing. I probably harvested them a bit early in mid-June, but they look reasonable. They were also grown in pretty crappy soil, some of the worst in my garden - nearly untouched Maryland clay, and they still did alright. I also started 5-6 roughly in April, picked in July and they did almost as well as the overwintered ones. I think it would be fine to do that generally, but why not plant in the fall?
Recipes using Garlic:
Matt's Salsa Fresca
Chicago Style Giardiniera
Char Siu (Chinese Roast Pork)
Pollo a la brasa
Alton Brown's Guacamole
Cajun Dirty Rice
Cold Cucumber Dill Soup
Sweet Chile Sauce
Tomatillo Salsa II
Hamburger Dill Pickles I
Hamburger Pickles II
Red Chile Enchiladas
Burned Red Tomato Salsa
Burned Tomatillo Salsa
Bobby Flay's Jalapeno Hot Sauce
Black Bean Chili
White Bean Chili
Pork Meatball sandwiches
Not-so Refried Beans
Freezer Spaghetti Sauce
Stir-Fry Chicken with Garlic Sauce
Cheesy Poblano Chicken
Fajita steak marinade
Alabama White BBQ Sauce
Chorizo and Manchego Stuffed Mushrooms