Garlic is an easy to grow crop best suited to in-ground growing or raised beds. Read on for everything you need to know for growing great garlic this year.
Plant cloves from September to the end of November. There is a brief window at the beginning of March when you can plant for a fall harvest, but in this climate garlic performs better if overwintered.
Garlic likes to grow in rich, well-drained, loose and weed-free soil. Sandy-loamy soil is ideal as it allows the bulbs to push out easier as they grow, preventing an excessively wet growing environment, and making it easier to clean the bulbs after harvest. If you have clay soil to work with, simply add a good amount of loamy compost and consider raising your beds to help with reducing moisture content over winter and in the spring. Ultimately to know exactly what your soil might need in preparation, consider doing a soil test. To minimize the risk of disease, plant only seed-stock quality garlic (see our quality statement here), practice a 3 - 5 year crop rotation, ensure good drainage, and scout for disease regularly.
Separate cloves (aiming to leave the paper skin intact) before you begin planting. Choose all the largest cloves in the bulb for planting (saving any little ones for dinner).If you are planting multiple varieties, have very clearly labeled containers to keep the varieties separate and also have some labeled stakes ready ahead of time so you can mark where you planted each variety.
Member Earth Apple Organic Farm further preps garlic for planting and ensures there’s no little critters (mites) by using a secret recipe. Ready-to-plant cloves are placed in a sieve and then soaked for 15 minutes in a solution of water 60% and alcohol 40% (if you’re feeling fancy that means you can simply soak them in cheap vodka or use rubbing alcohol, which has a much higher concentration of ~80-90% and add water to make it the correct dilution). After a max of 15 minutes, rinse with water then place in a bucket with a solution of kelp meal and water to soak anywhere between one hour or even overnight. Strain and plant!
There are various opinions on garlic spacing, choose what suits your growing conditions. Earth Apple grows in 4′ wide beds and planting 5 rows per bed about 7″ apart. Common planting is 4-6” apart, sowing the tip of each clove in a depth twice it’s size (~1-2”). Use shallower planting if using mulch or planting into heavy soil, and plant deeper if rain or frost may expose the cloves.
Mulching & Weeding
Straw, black silage tarps, landscape fabric or leaves can be used to mulch freshly planted beds to insulate the soil over winter from the cold, minimize leaching and erosion while also suppressing weeds. If you use straw or hay ensure the quality you’re sourcing from to minimize weed seeds. Garlic does not do well in weedy environments. In order to create good air circulation between plants and to prevent competition for rooting space, keep your beds weed free! Read more here about how Earth Apple manages weeds!
Fertilize when spring growth starts before hardnecks begin to scape using a foliar spray. A combination of a general purpose liquid fertilizer, kelp meal, and micronutrients. Make sure to follow the labels to ensure you don’t over-fertilize. Water as needed and keep weeded!
If you are growing hardneck varieties of garlic you will want to remove the scapes (the unopened flower of the plant), which typically appear 1 - 2 months after the first leaves depending on variety. By removing the scapes you are essentially forcing the plant to send its energy back down to its other method of reproduction– the bulb which helps bigger bulbs form. Scapes are edible and can be used for pesto or as a sub for garlic in any recipe.
Knowing when your garlic is ready to harvest is key. Watch this video of Mike from Earth Apple explaining how to know when your garlic is ready.
Some people wait for the tops to start to die off. This isn’t necessarily your best bet since at that point (depending on the weather conditions you are facing) the skins on the bulb in the ground may also have begun to deteriorate. You want good healthy skins on your bulb when you harvest so they can cure properly. In summer when the bottom leaves are beginning to yellow and when 3 - 4 lower leaves turn brown, which should be in June through August, depending on your location.
Do not leave in the ground too long or bulbs will separate and rot. Dig garlic with a spading fork, being careful not to bruise the bulbs. Brush off the soil before curing and storing the bulbs. When pulling your garlic up out of the ground, you want to get a pitchfork or shovel under there and loosen the soil from the roots underneath. You don’t want to just pull on the garlic or you risk separating papers from the bulb and even pulling the stem right off. Be gentle with your garlic, it might seem tough, but it can bruise and any damage to the bulb will compromise its ability to store well.
To ensure your garlic lasts in storage for several months you will want to “cure” it in a dry environment with good air circulation, out of direct light and with a temperature that is not overly warm, but not cool either. Around 24°C to 27°C is ideal with low humidity.
Hang in bundles or spread as a single layer on screens or drying racks. Allow to cure until the neck is dry and outer skins are dry right through approximately 2 - 3 weeks. You can then begin cutting it down and cleaning it up to store in a room temperature, dry environment for the winter. Moisture, heat, or excessive cold may provoke sprouting.