Growing garlic yourself is astoundingly simple; there are just a few rules you have to follow to ensure a healthy crop. Also it should be mentioned that there are two different groups of garlic: softneck and hardneck varieties. Today, we are talking about hardneck garlic, which is the kind of garlic we grow at the BELL garden.
Choosing Garlic to Plant
Garlic is typically grown from the cloves from last year’s bulbs, so all you need is a few heads of it. When choosing garlic to plant, just be sure that you do not use varieties from the super market. This garlic is most often treated with chemicals that prevent the cloves from growing and the plants will not grow properly through the course of their life with these treated bulbs.
The easiest way to get fresh bulbs to plant is at the farmers market. Here, you can ask and be sure if the garlic you purchase is untreated and safe to plant. Sometimes farmers will even sell you “seed garlic” which are the biggest and best bulbs saved for next years planting. These typically cost more, but will provide you with better genetics. You can also purchase seed garlic online.
Once you start planting garlic, the harvest can be saved to plant again next year so if you are diligent about caring for your it, you will only have to buy it once.
How to Plant and Care for Garlic
Garlic is best planted in the fall as it needs a period of cold in order to form a proper bulb. It is a hearty plant so in most cases it can be planted as long as the ground is workable and not frozen. It our region it is best planted anytime from September to November. In some cases (such as this year) even a couple weeks into December is okay.
When you plant garlic, the orientation of the clove is important. Most of us have probably seen garlic left in a sunny windowsill begin to create a green shoot and come to life. This green shoot is the “top” of the emerging plant, and the raspy circle on the bottom is what will become its roots. So, it is important to plant garlic with the roots extending down into the earth, and the green stalk shooting into the sky.
Garlic should be planted at a depth of around three inches, deep enough that it can form a bulb. The plants should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, in loose, well draining soil. After planting, you should cover the space thickly with straw or another mulch. Don’t worry, you won’t bury your garlic; the shoot will find its way to the soils surface in around two or three weeks. Make sure your straw is sufficient; because it will be the only coverage your garlics will receive through the winter months.
Garlic Harvest and Storage
In spring after frost has passed, check your garlic every week or so for scapes, which are the flowering stalks of the garlic plant and are regarded as a delicacy. They have a mild garlic flavor with the texture of asparagus or a fresh green bean. Trimming the scapes will encourage the growth of your bulbs and lead to a bigger better end product.
In May or June, your garlic will be ready to harvest. Gently coax them out of the soil with a garden fork and put them in a cool, dark, dry place like a shed to cure and allow the “paper” on the garlic to dry for as long as 3 months. Make sure the whole plant is intact and that the dirt is not removed during the curing process. Use a fan to improve the circulation in the room and check them periodically to make sure that they are curing properly and no molds are forming.
Your garlic can be eaten fresh and uncured, but if you want some in your kitchen year round and some to plant next year, then you will need to take care that it cures and dries properly. Then you can save it and start the process again!
If you want to learn a little more about how to plant garlic and its history, follow these links: