Growing Garlic

Garlic Cloves

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Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow. I think that is because it is a set it and forget it plant. I plant in the fall so it can develop its roots and be one of the first things to sprout up in the spring. While I am busy getting everything else in the ground, my garlic is happily growing away doing its thing.

I got some wonderful local sets two years ago from someone who has been growing this garlic in this area for a while now. It really helps to have plants that are adapted to your area. I saved most of my garlic from last year so I had enough to plant about 50 plants this year. My family eats a lot of garlic and I need enough for us and enough to save for planting next year. I think that this year it will be close. My first priority will be saving out enough to increase our planting so we are sure to have enough from next years harvest to last the full year and again increase our harvest. I would like to have enough to share also.

Technically, you can grow garlic that you bought at the store that has started to sprout but I have never had luck with this and it is possible to introduce diseases into your soil if you do this. Some garlic from the store is also treated with a sprout inhibitor. If you purchase, or are able to get seed garlic from a friend, you will have better results and you will only have to do this once if you keep enough for next years planting. Saving garlic to plant is the easiest form of seed saving. When you harvest your garlic, you just keep the bulb intact until you are ready to plant, that is it!


Garlic Bulb with Cloves

When you are ready to plant your garlic, find a nice sunny area with good soil. A well worked softer soil is easier to deal with when planting. You will want to separate your bulb into cloves, each clove will be planted individually. Do not peel it, you will just separate them and put them in the ground with the papery skin on. Plant your cloves 4-6 inches apart and space your rows about a foot apart. You can plant your cloves form 1-4 inches deep in the ground. Last year I was closer to the 1 inch mark and every time we got a good rain, I had to go push all the garlic back down in the dirt, they kept creeping up out of the soil. Next year I will probably shoot for the 3 inch depth. The roots will grow out of the base of the clove so make sure you plant your cloves pointy side up.

I live in area that gets snow and the garlic doesn’t mind the cold as long as it is covered. I like to plant in the fall so the rain and snow provides all the water my garlic needs to get started. You will want to make sure that you have a well draining area if you do this. You do not want your garlic sitting in a puddle all winter and rotting. Keep in mind that you won’t get 100% of your cloves to grow into new garlic. Just like all other seeds there will be some that won’t germinate or won’t grow properly, so plant a little extra if you need to. This year I have had three or four that are not growing well, which is pretty good odds given how many I planted.

You just watch them grow and water them until late spring/early summer when you will get a fun bonus harvest of scapes. I harvested yesterday which happened to be the first day of summer. Scapes are what would turn into the flower if you left them. They are a thicker stalk that comes up out of the middle of the plant. They grow like a crazy corkscrew and you will want to cut them off before they flower or straighten out their growth. You can cut them off with a sharp knife or scissors on a nice sunny day so the cut end will dry out. There are so many things you can do with scapes, you can make pesto, grill them, sauté them or make herb butter. Last year I made a very tasty cracker spread. My plan is to do this again as soon as I can remember what I did. This is why I started a garden journal, because I can’t remember my favorite recipes a year later. While you figure out what to do with your scape harvest, your garlic just keeps growing.




So when do you harvest your garlic? This one is the hardest part for me because I can’t see them and I get impatient. Don’t dig them up yet and don’t go trying to yank them out of the ground by their tops. If you don’t let them go long enough they will be small and won’t save well. When about half of your leaves have died back, turning yellow or brown, it will be time to gently loosen the dirt around one or two and check them. If the skins are nice and full and firm with good size, you can go ahead and harvest. The almanac says fall garlic should be ready between late June and August. Last year mine were a bit earlier than most of my neighbors, I think the little microclimate in my yard is a bit warmer.

To harvest you will want to gently loosen the soil around the bulb. Last year I loosen the soil enough so I could kind of scoop them out with my hand. You don’t want to pull on the tops too hard and you don’t want to damage the bulbs with any hard garden tools. Don’t wash them or clean them too much, just shake off the dirt and get them into the shade to dry. Garlic needs to be cured for long term storage. This is a fancy way of saying that it needs to dry out. You can hang them in a cool, dry, dark corner until the wrapper becomes papery and the roots are dry. Then you can remove any dirt and cut off the stems and roots. You can also store your garlic in braids.

If stored in a cool dry place it should last through the season until you are ready to harvest again. Use any damaged bulbs first and don’t forget to save the biggest best bulbs for planting next year.

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