How to Grow Garlic
A bonus about Garlic is that is simple to carry varieties forward from year to year without the need to repurchase additional seed Garlic, depending of course if you can restrain yourself from eating all of it.
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic, like any other plant that you are trying to grow requires the same basic things: soil, sun and water. Sure your plants will grow under adverse conditions, but just growing is not enough. The difference between growing large robust Garlic, tomatoes, carrots, roses or whatever you are trying to produce compared to mediocre crops is:
*adequately supervised in a lawn chair with a few cold beers!!
Garlic grows best in well-drained soils which are high in rich organic matter. What plant doesn’t? So do your best to prepare the soil. Cover crops are ideal soil builders for larger beds or fields. We use primarily buckwheat for a cover crop and are able to plant and till-in up to three crops per year in idle areas. In addition we add composted manure and plant material, which are some of the best organic soil builders.
Drought or excessively wet conditions will stress Garlic, reducing your harvest. Garlic likes about one inch of water per week. Never let Garlic completely dry out while it is maturing. Supplement with extra water during dry spells but limit additional watering prior to 3 weeks of harvest. This allows the Garlic to dry out somewhat before harvest and starts the necessary curing process.
Garlic prefers full sun if possible. Garlic grown in partial shade will be just as tasty, though bulb size may be diminished at harvest.
Split your Garlic bulbs into individual cloves no more than two days before planting. Generally, everyone wants to grow the largest Garlic so select the largest cloves and plant them first. Planting the larger cloves will generally produce the largest Garlic. The smaller cloves can still be planted or used in a variety of culinary dishes. Garlic grown from smaller cloves tends to store slightly longer.
The best time to plant Garlic is in the fall or approximately two weeks after the first killing frost. That is usually the second week of October in Wisconsin. All of our planting is done by hand with our cloves 6 inches apart in rows 20 inches apart. This provides just enough room to walk between the rows and allows easy weeding between the plants. Cloves are planted with at least 2 inches of soil cover.
Mulch should be applied within several weeks of planting. Three to four inches of weed-free mulch will help moderate winter soil temperatures and prevent heaving. You can remove the mulch in spring to allow the soil to warm faster or leave the mulch in place to discourage weed growth during the growing season.
In addition to building our soil with manure, compost and tilled-in cover crops, we use a foliar feeding of organic fish emulsion. This is applied every other week from late March through mid-May.
Try to keep your garden weed free. Weeds compete for nutrients with the plants that you are trying to grow. Fewer weeds means fewer weed seeds. Less competition means larger, healthier Garlic.
If you have planted types of Hardneck Garlic there is an additional bonus to your planting efforts, Scapes. Scapes are comprised of a stem with a flower or bulbil on the end. Cut them off just above the last leaf after the stem has formed a complete circle. Scapes have a variety of culinary uses: they can be chopped raw for salads, pesto, stir-frying, roasted, soup.... They can be pickled; they can even be artistically arranged in edible flower arrangements close to the stove. You shouldn’t remove them too early, watch for at least one full circle, or the Garlic may send up an additional smaller Scape, robbing the plant of nutrients.
Determining the time to harvest your Garlic can be a little tricky, but the Garlic will give you hints as to when it is ready. Watch the leaves. They will start to turn brown from the bottom up, beginning around mid-June through mid-July. Different Garlic varieties mature at different rates. Harvest your Garlic before one half of the total leaves are brown. Better yet, when you suspect that your garlic is approaching harvest time, dig around the base of a few plants without disturbing the roots and take a look at the condition of bulbs. Look at both the size of the bulb and that the bulb wrappers are still intact even though the leaves are starting to deteriorate. Harvesting too early is better than harvesting too late. With experience you will be able to judge if it is time to harvest by looking at the leaves. Harvest the Garlic by digging under it and then lift it out, roots and all, shaking off any loose dirt.
Curing and Storage
Garlic should not be left out in the sun after harvesting and handle the bulbs gently to avoid bruising. Tie your Garlic in bunches of ten or less and hang in a cool, well ventilated, shady place to cure. Curing takes at least three weeks or more depending on conditions. Garlic has finished curing when all the green plant material has turned brown. After the garlic has cured, brush off any remaining dirt and cut off the roots to about one quarter inch and the leaves to about one inch. Garlic that is destined to be eaten can be cleaned with a soft brush or by rubbing off the outer wrapper. Store your seed stock for the next season at room temperature with good ventilation in a mesh bag or milk crate until planting time. Try not to remove more wrapper than necessary. Garlic should be stored above 50°F in a well ventilated area. Temperatures above 68°F will result in the Garlic drying out too rapidly. Temperatures below 50°F will encourage premature sprouting. Ideally, the storage area will have a relative humidity of 45% to 50%, lower humidity results in withering, but humidity higher than 70% will result in premature rooting and molds.
Pests and Diseases
Garlic is a relatively trouble-free crop. Planting Garlic or identical crops year after year in the same fields or beds increases the risk of both diseases and pests. Suitable farming practices such as yearly crop rotation, avoiding mechanical damage during planting and harvesting, as well as careful sanitary practices such as the removing culls and plant debris from beds- all help to reduce this risk. Carefully examine your planting stock for signs of mold and avoid using any displaying signs of mold. Some growers suggest giving the cloves a bath in diluted alcohol or vodka before planting to reduce the chance of any pathogens being present.
© 2016 The Garlic Underground LLC Oconomowoc, Wi