While many people are busy planting their fall bulbs for spring, like tulips or daffodils, we’ve been busy putting our garlic in the ground. With the cooler nights, the period between Thanksgiving and Halloween are the best times to plant garlic for an early summer harvest.
What you will need
Mulch (leaves or straw)
Selecting Garlic Bulbs
When selecting garlic bulbs for planting, select a local, organically grown garlic. These are available at local Farmers Markets or garden shops. While the garlic from the grocery store (product of China) will grow, it also increases the risk of transmitting soil born diseases. Since garlic grows as a clone, try to select the largest and nicest bulbs you can find for best results.
There are two types of garlic available. The traditional “porcelain” (e.g. Italian) type of garlic is known as a “soft-neck” garlic as it does not produce a flower. These garlic have 2 rings of cloves so contain more edible garlic. The “hard-neck” varieties of garlic (e.g. Red Russian) produce an edible flower, or “scape” prior to harvest. Cloves in these garlic are often larger and more pungent and spicy.
How to plant
Garlic is a heavy feeder and enjoys soil that is rich in nutrients. Prior to planting, it is best to amend your soil with compost or an organic fertilizer. This will provide plenty of nutrients for the garlic to grow. Garlic also does not like competition, so be sure to plant it 3 times the size of your bulb (roughly 6″) away from other plants or garlic.
Carefully remove the cloves from inside of the bulb, so as not to break the skin on each clove. If the skin is broken, do not plant that clove and save it for eating instead. A broken skin will allow moisture into the clove causing it to rot.
Plant the garlic 2-3″ deep (twice the depth of the garlic clove), with the pointy end of the clove facing up. This is the end the leaves will grow from, so give them the shortest route to the sun. Cover with dirt but do not pack down the dirt down so the garlic can breathe. Once all your garlic is planted, cover it with 6″ of mulch (dried leaves or straw). This will act as an insulator in the winter, should the ground freeze.
In the spring, when the garlic has sprouted and begun growing, remove the mulch to avoid build-up or excess moisture and mold. Water the garlic regularly to keep it free of weeds, and sprinkle compost around the growing shoots.
If you planted a hard-neck variety of garlic, you will notice the flower beginning to grow in early-mid June. Once the flower has coiled itself around, it should be cut (and eaten!). This will force the garlic to put it’s energy into growing the bulb. Failure to remove this scape can result in stunted bulb growth. Your garlic should be ready to harvest in late June to late July (depending on variety). Gently poke a finger into the soil around the garlic to determine the size.
Soft-neck garlic looks similar to growing onions and will not have a flower to be removed. When it is ready to be harvested, the ends of the leaves will begin to yellow and dry out. The leaves will also become weak and may even fall over. As with the hard-neck, gently place a finger down beside garlic to determine size.
With a trowel, gently dig beside the garlic until you are under the bulb and pop it out. Be careful you don’t stab the garlic as this will cause the garlic to rot faster.
In order to preserve the garlic and make it last, you should trim the leaves of the garlic and hang it to cure. Keep it in a warm and dry space, out of direct sunlight that can burn the garlic. Cure the garlic for about a week. This will lock in the oils and dry out the stems and stalk of the garlic, which is where the rot gets in.
Remember to store your garlic in a dry space with plenty of air circulation, at room temperature for best results. Storing garlic in a cool, moist place (like the fridge) will trick the garlic into thinking it is fall and in the ground, which will trigger it to sprout!
Save your best bulb(s) for seed stock next fall and enjoy the rest of the fresh garlic you just grew!