How to Grow Garlic

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Why grow garlic?

My question is why not grow garlic. Garlic grows so very easily, it imparts a flavor to food I just cannot do without. In the garden it takes up very little space and demands nothing. Even if you only grow a small garden, you can raise enough to be self-sufficient in garlic for a good part of the year.

There are hundreds of varieties in garden catalogues but in determining the kind of garlic to grow in your garden depends on what you are going to do with it after harvest. Remember two things, soft neck and hard neck.

Difference Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic

Softnecks stalks are actually made up of leaves rather than a central stalk. As softnecks mature, the entire green plant dies down, leaving nothing but the bulb and flexible stems that are easy to braid. This is where the name “softneck” come from. Softneck garlics (Allium sativum var. sativum) are recommended for growing if you live in a milder climate. TSoftneck garlics don’t form scapes and grow several small cloves per bulb. They mature more quickly than hardneck varieties. Softneck garlics tend to store better than hardneck, so if you are looking for long-term storage, this type is the one to choose.

So, hardneck? Well, as their name implies, are generally hardier than softneck varieties. Hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon), varieties are the best option for Northern gardeners (they are hardier). They are also the best choice if you want to enjoy garlic scapes in early summer: hardneck garlic have a stiff stem in the center that ends in a fabulously beautiful globe of flowers (actually a cluster of little bulbs) that dries to a rigid stick that makes braiding impossible. Hardneck garlics tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck garlics, but they make up for that with a bulb that is a bit larger.

hardneck garlic
a hardneck garlic – notice the central stem

Soil preparation: Garlic will tolerate some shade but prefers full sun. While I’ve seen cloves sprout in the most unlikely of places, garlic responds best in well-drained, rich, loamy soil amended with lots of organic matter. Raised beds are ideal, except in very dry regions.

Planting: To grow garlic, you plant the cloves, an individual section of the bulb; each clove will produce a new bulb. The largest cloves generally yield the biggest bulbs. To get the cloves off to a strong start and protect them from fungal diseases, soak them in a jar of water containing one heaping tablespoon of baking soda and a tablespoon of liquid seaweed for a few hours before planting. Plant garlic in the fall.

grow garlic scapes

Can you plant garlic in the spring?

You can certainly plant garlic in the spring. It will grow nice and green. So why is it recommended to plant garlic in the fall? Start growing garlic in the fall and you will find that your bulbs are bigger and more flavorful when you harvest the next summer. Garlic just doesn’t get the “head start” it needs when planted in the spring. It will still taste good, but the bulbs won’t be as big and the flavor not quite as full.

Spacing: Place cloves in a hole or furrow with the flat or root end down and the pointed end up, with each tip 2 inches beneath the soil. Set the cloves about 6 to 8 inches apart. Closer for intensive planting. Top the soil with 6 inches of mulch, such as straw or dried grass clippings mixed with leaves. You’ll see shoots start growing right through the mulch in four to eight weeks, depending on your weather and the variety you’ve planted. They stop growing during winter, then start again in spring. Leave the mulch in place into spring; it conserves moisture and suppresses weeds (garlic competes poorly with weeds).

Watering: Garlic needs about an inch of water each week during spring growth. If you have to augment rainfall with the garden hose, stop watering by June 1 or when the leaves begin to yellow in order to let the bulbs firm up. I rarely think about watering garlic in the winter.

garlic scapes - grow garlic

Garlic Scapes: Carolyn Cope (contributor to SeriousEats) says this about scapes…

But scapes offer more than a slightly rowdy alternative to garlic. Because of their substantial heft as opposed to garlic cloves, they are vegetable, aromatic, and even herb all in one. If you get some from your CSA, happen upon a giant pile of them at the farmers’ market, or snip them from your garden, don’t politely look the other way.

Garlic is as beautiful in the garden as it is easy to grow. In his book Garlic Kisses, Chester Aaron share the story of a dear friend who begged him not to trim the scapes off his garlic because to her they resembled hundreds of graceful birds dancing magically in the wind.

What are garlic scapes? By mid-June, your garlic will begin sprouting flowery tops that curl as they mature and ultimately straighten out into long spiky tendrils. These savory stalks, known as scapes, can be removed to encourage larger, more efficient bulb growth. “Sacrificing scapes” is a win, win for the homestead gardener because scapes themselves can be eaten in a variety of delicious ways… scape pesto, scape dip, or scape soup

From the earliest times, garlic has been used as part of peoples diet. It formed part of the food of the Israelites in Egypt and of the laborers employed by Cheops in the construction of his pyramid.

It was largely consumed by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes. Galen eulogizes it as the rustic’s theriac (cure-all), and Alexander Neckam recommends it as a palliative of the heat of the sun in field labor.

Garlic is most often used as a seasoning or a condiment, and is believed by many to have some medicinal value. It also contains alliin, ajoene, enzymes, vitamin B, minerals, and flavonoids.

Fertilizing: Start foliar-feeding garlic every two weeks as soon as leaf growth begins in spring (typically in March) and continue until around May 15, at which point the bulbs begin to form, says Darrell Merrell, host of the “Garlic Is Life” Festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Merrell uses 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed mix and 1 tablespoon fish emulsion mixed into a gallon of water.

Harvesting Garlic

When half to three-quarters of the leaves turn yellow-brown, typically in late June or early July (depending on the variety and the weather), it’s harvest time. Carefully dig up each bulb; do not simply try to pull garlic out of the ground, or you may break the stalk from the bulb, which can cause it to rot. Once it’s harvested, get it out of the sun as soon as possible.

Tie the garlic together in bundles of 6 to 10 bulbs (label them if you’ve grown more than one variety) and hang them to cure for about four to six weeks in a shaded, dry, and preferably drafty area.

When your garlic is thoroughly dry, trim the roots, taking care not to knock off the outer skin. Cut off the stalks about 1½ inches above the bulb if you plan to keep the garlic in bags. Recycled mesh onion bags are perfect for storage.

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