How to Grow: Garlic

Being an Italian-American who likes to cook, I eat a lot of garlic (Allium tuberosum). Lucky for me growing garlic is almost as easy as eating it. Growing your own garlic offers some distinct advantages. You can try unusual varieties with spicy hot to almost a nutty flavor. You can grow softneck garlic which is great for braiding or hard neck varieties that produce scapes (green curlycue flower stalks) in early summer that can be eaten for a mild garlic flavor.

Dried garlic bulbs hanging on a wall

You can grow garlic in a small space. You can produce more than 25 bulbs in a 3- by 5-foot bed. That’s a lot of garlic even by my standards. Plus the flavor of fresh garlic is much better than anything you buy in stores.

When to Plant

Garlic is planted in October, the same time you’ll be planting daffodils and tulips. This gives the garlic bulbs roots a chance to get established before winter sets in.

Where to Plant

Garlic grows best in full sun. Well drained soils are a must. Since the cloves will be sitting in the soil all winter, poorly drained soils lead to the cloves rotting. Planting in raised beds insures that the soil stays well drained all winter and your garlic viable.

How to Plant

Create raised beds 8-inches tall, no more than 3-feet wide, and as long as you like. Amend the bed with compost. Break apart the garlic bulbs that you purchased on-line or at your local garden center, into individual cloves. Select varieties adapted to our climate. Set cloves pointy side up 2 inches deep in the raised bed, spaced 6 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart.

Care and Maintenance

Garlic is a very easy vegetable to grow. Keep the soil moist in fall and protect the bed with a 4- to 6-inch deep layer of hay or straw added in November. Your garlic should be fine until spring. If we have a warm fall, sometimes the garlic cloves sprout green shoots. Don’t worry, they will stop growing once the cold weather and shorter days set in.

In spring, remove the mulch once the garlic starts growing. Usually this is April or early May. Once three garlic leaves have formed, add a small handful of organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, per row. Keep the bed well weeded and watered.

If the soil conditions are right, garlic has few problems. Pest and animals don’t really like them. In fact some gardeners swear by planting garlic among other vegetables to ward pests off. Diseases are avoided by rotating crops annually.

Harvest

Harvest the scapes of hardneck garlic varieties in early summer once they form their curly cues. They have a mild garlic flavor which is great in cooking. By removing the scapes, the garlic plant will send more energy into producing larger sized bulbs.

Harvest garlic bulbs when the bottom third of the leaves yellow. Pull therm out of the ground, knock off any extra soil on the bulbs and store them in a cool, airy, shady, dry location for about 2 weeks until the tops dry. With a pruner or sharp knife, cut off the tops, 1/2 inch above the bulb, and trim the roots. If you’re growing softneck varieties leave the tops for braiding.

Store bulbs in mesh bags in a dark, 40F to 50F room for winter. Garlic can keep for more than 6 months under the right conditions. I’m often still eating last years garlic when harvesting this years garlic scapes.

Additional Information

Some of my favorite hardneck varieties include ‘Russian Red’, ‘Chesnook Red’, and ‘German Xtra Hardy’. Some good softneck varieties to try include ‘Inchelium Red’ and ‘New York White’. Elephant garlic features fewer, but larger cloves and a milder flavor than other garlics.

Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.

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