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I have been wanting to expand upon my gardening content on here, and after a little debate, I've decided to give it a go. Gardening is one of my favorite things in addition to cooking, and they really go hand in hand. Today I'll be sharing how to grow garlic because garlic is one of those vegetables I use a lot in my cooking.
Right now it is early November and there's not a lot of planting going on. In some areas up north, people have already finished their gardens for the year. But the nice thing about planting garlic is that it's a gardening task you can do in the fall when everything else is wrapping up for the year.
Why grow your own garlic?
The thing about buying garlic, and many vegetables, from the store is that the varieties are very limited. When you grow garlic in your home garden, you'll realize that there are so many varieties to chose from and each have their own complex flavors. Some garlic connoisseurs chose to plant several types in order to have a palate to chose from.
In addition, you can grow a lot of garlic from just a few bulbs and save garlic each year to replant. This is much cheaper than buying garlic from the grocery store. Garlic is a space efficient crop. So garlic is perfect to grow in small gardens or container gardens. I just planted about 50 in a 1.5 ft by 4 ft space.
When to plant garlic?
Garlic is typically planted in the fall to encourage maximum bulb growth. Once planted, it requires very little maintenance until the next summer when it is harvested. Garlic should be planted between late-September and mid-November depending on your hardiness zone. In warmer places, like south Florida or south Texas, garlic can be planted in January.
Just make sure you get your garlic in the ground a few weeks before the ground freezes.
Softneck vs hardneck garlic
Whether to grow softneck or hardneck garlic is going to depend on where you live. In the northern US and Canada, hardneck garlic grows the best because it needs cold weather to grow properly. In the south, plant softneck garlic.
I'm actually doing an experiment this year where I planted hardneck garlic despite living in the south. My area does get a moderate amount of chill hours (800-1000) though, which is the cumulative number of hours the temperature is in the 32 to 45 degree range between October and March. So next summer, I will update this post with my results.
You can tell the difference between softneck and hardneck garlic by looking at the center of the garlic bulb. Hardneck garlic has a hard stem in the center of the bulb whereas softneck garlic doesn't.
- Stores very well
- Better suited for warmer climates
- Typically do not grow a scape
- Can be braided because the "neck" or stem of the garlic is soft
- Tend to have a milder flavor
- Grow larger bulbs but contain numerous smaller cloves
- Do not store as well (typically 6 months or less)
- Better suited for areas with colder winters
- Grows a scape which is a little green shoot that grows out of the top of the plant and is edible.
- Can't be braided
- Can have a stronger flavor
- Is technically not a garlic but is closer to a leek
- Milder flavor
- Very large bulbs
- Can grow in both colder and warmer climates
Where to buy seed garlic
You may be wondering: Can I use grocery store garlic to grow garlic in my garden? To be honest, I thought about this too after looking at the cost of seed garlic. This isn't ideal though for several reasons:
- It can introduce disease into your garden which can stick around in the soil. Seed garlic is bred to be disease free.
- It might not grow as well. Grocery store garlic is typically soft neck garlic which is not suited for all climates. Also, the grocery store garlic may not form large, full size heads because it was grown for consumption, not for planting.
- Also, there is just a lot less variety.
Even though seed garlic has a higher up front cost, I prefer to grow garlic from seed garlic because I have a higher guarantee of getting the end result I want. The other thing is that once you buy and grow the garlic, you can save a few bulbs from your crop and replant them for next year. Next summer I plan to get around 50 plants from 4 bulbs of seed garlic, so it really pays itself off to start with the seed garlic.
I buy most of my seeds and plants (including garlic) from Baker Creek. I've rarely had an issue with their products and the one time I did, their customer service was excellent. They have a large selection of rare and heirloom garlic each fall. Certain varieties do sell out earlier in the fall, so make sure you look and buy yours early if you want a specific type.
- Compost and/or fertilizer (I use blood meal and bone meal)
- Leaf or straw mulch
- Firm garlic bulbs (wait until planting to break the cloves apart). It's okay if the garlic is already sprouting.
How To Plant Garlic
The first thing that I do before planting is to select the place in my garden where I want to plant my garlic. A location where it will receive full sun is best. You also want loose soil that has been amended with compost prior to planting.
I like to maximize the space in my raised beds, since I have a small garden, so I interplant the garlic in-between rows of my fall greens.
Most garlic (not elephant garlic which will need more room) should be spaced around 4-6 inches apart. You can fit 9 cloves in 1 square foot if you are using the square foot gardening method.
The first thing I like to do is to break apart the cloves and lay them in the garden where I'll be planting them. This helps me visualize the spacing before I plant. Try to pick the bigger, outer cloves for planting.
Once I have the spacing the way I like it, I use my finger or a stick to poke a hole in the spot where the garlic will be planted (4 inch depth). If you live somewhere colder, you will dig a deeper, 6 inch hole.
In each hole I like to add a pinch of blood and bone meal. The bone meal especially helps with bulb growth.
Then I put a clove into each hole making sure that the pointy end is facing up. Then I lightly cover the garlic clove with soil.
The next thing to do is give the garlic a good watering before adding mulch.
Finally, you will want to add mulch overtop of the garlic. If you live in a warmer climate, you will only need a couple inches of mulch but if you live somewhere cold, make sure to mulch more deeply. If your garlic sprouts after planting in the fall, this is okay. It will still grow in the spring.
Once I have my garlic planted, there's not much maintenance after that. I might water the garlic occasionally over the winter since I don't get much precipitation in my area, but in most places you can basically forget about your garlic until the spring.
In the spring, when the garlic begins growing again, you will want to regularly water and fertilize the garlic plants, but other than that there is not much to do. If you are growing a hardneck garlic, it will grow a scape which needs to be removed in order for the bulb to have energy to grow. Once the scape makes a full curl, snip it off. Garlic scapes taste like garlicky green beans, and they are great breaded and fried or added to stir fries.
When to Harvest Garlic
Garlic will be ready to harvest when the green stalks fall over and begin to brown. Depending on where you live and the variety you planted, this can be anywhere between May and July.
You will want to harvest the bulbs on a day when the soil is dry. Lift the bulbs carefully out of the ground by reaching under the bulb and gently loosening them from the soil. You can use a garden fork to do this. Make sure to leave the stalks intact. Gently brush off the dirt but don't fully clean the bulbs.
How to Cure and Store Garlic
To cure garlic, you want to place the garlic in a cool, dry place. To make sure the bulbs get proper air circulation, lay them spaced out on top of a screen. If you don't have a screen, you can tie (hardneck garlic) or braid them (softneck garlic) together in groups of five to ten and hang them bulb down for 2-3 weeks. Once they have cured, you can remove the stalks.
Garlic stores best in a cool, dry place like a root cellar. Make sure to save some bulbs to plant again in the fall!