Garlic for the Beginner
Season begins when you plant in the fall. The garlic cloves establish roots before the ground freezes, and then overwinter, typically under mulch, to come up in the spring (March-April). Harvest is in July, and most of it is sold in September and October and/or stored for winter use.
Soil Preparation - Choose a site that has not had other alliums planted in it. The best soil is sandy loam, but we have amended our heavy clay soil enough that the garlic grows well. Raised beds help as well.
Plant peas or other legumes in spring and then till under to trap nitrogen. Plant barley or sudex as a green manure crop about 8 weeks before planting date (mid-summer in our area). Disk it in before it comes to a head (beginning of September). Don’t plant wheat, rye, soybeans, or legumes right before garlic planting.
Add organic matter – ideally 1-2 year old compost; minimum 3-6 months if vegetable compost, 1 year if animal based, at the middle to end of September. Approx. amt. is 10-15, 5 gallon pails for every 100 square feet or ½ to 1 inch deep.
Shape raised beds or rows depending on your soil, tools, and preference – goal is to have a fertile, well-drained, loosely worked, not weedy soil, so there is good drainage and room for the garlic to penetrate.
We sprinkle 5 pounds of a custom blend of bulb fertilizer and 5 pounds aragonite or lime per 100 square feet.
Garlic Preparation - Locate disease-free seed stock. One common problem is fusarium, a disease that can cause garlic to rot. Check out “fusarium in garlic” online. The other issue being seen is Bloat Nematode, a microscopic pest that can cause considerable damage. (See resources below)
Choose varieties that are easy to grow when you start – German White, a porcelain, is hardy in our climate and suitable for all culinary uses.
Other varieties we have grown – Spanish Roja, German Red – both are rocamboles, and Elephant Garlic – large but more closely related to a leek
There are different varieties – Hardneck -Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, etc. and Softneck- Artichoke, etc. Within the varieties, you find similarities in both type and names. However, what is most interesting is that garlic having the same name grown in different soils will have different flavors.
Break or split garlic bulbs into the individual cloves. You’ll notice that the German White has 5- 6 large cloves, and the Spanish Roja has 8-10. Do this 1- 2 days, not more than a week, before planting, so cloves don’t dry out or start sprouting (esp. in warm weather)
Planting and Mulching - About one hour before beginning to plant, soak cloves in 80 proof vodka or 3% hydrogen peroxide. Other people use a bleach solution, hot water treatment, or compost tea. Check out this link: www.growseed.org/seedtreatments.html
Plant root side down in holes about 1 inch deep and 4-6 inches apart if using mulch (or 4 inches deep if only covering with dirt).
Cover with about 4-6 inches of barley or sudex straw to protect cloves from frost heaving.
We have used hay, but unfortunately, hay contains a lot of weed seeds and in our experience, disease.
Don’t plant more of one variety than you can harvest in a week’s time.
Watering, Weeding, and Feeding - In early spring the shoots start to appear, promising a thriving crop.
Garlic may need watering in an extremely dry year. Don’t water in the two or three weeks before harvesting.
Keep the weeds out as much as possible – no competition! The year we used sudex we only had to weed thoroughly once and then just a little a second time. Last year we used about 6 inches of barley straw with excellent results.
Scapes - Around the middle to end of May, scapes will be growing out of the center of the plant. SNAP these off, so the plant can put its energy into growing the bulb instead of making a flower. Use rubber gloves if you have sensitive skin, as the juice can irritate. Snap earlier in the day when scapes are stiffer and the weather is cooler.
Be thorough and methodical, but if you do miss any, you will see the scapes curl and flower as the plants mature. Check every day for a week, as the plants mature at different rates. Leave a few scapes on and they will continue to curl and will then go straight up. This is one indicator that the bulb is ready to be harvested (see the next section on harvesting).
Eat the scapes – cut off the flower part and then saute’, roast, or pickle them or make pesto.
Harvesting - Garlic should be ready the second week of July. If you left any scapes on, they should be standing up and beginning to flower. The bottom 3 leaves of the plant should be brown.
Watch the weather. If rain is predicted, try to harvest beforehand. Dry weather in early July makes for an easier harvest.
You will most likely need to dig before pulling the plants – use a digging fork if garlic is not mulched; a smaller hand tool works well in mulched garlic. Be careful not to pull the stalk off the bulb. Heavy mulch makes the job fairly easy.
Curing and Processing - Hang the stalks and bulbs or place on racks that allow air movement to dry or cure in a cool, dim location. We have a three-sided building we built specifically for hanging garlic. A large barn fan circulates the air, but we do not run it on rainy days. (Depending on the weather, cure for 3-4 weeks)
Trim the stalks to about 1 or 2 inches from bulb and the roots about ½ inch.
Set aside the nicest looking bulbs – can be both big and small - for planting. Some growers like to use only the biggest, but we like to keep genetic diversity. Other growers aim for a 2-2 ¼ inch size.
We take off the outermost layer as we “clean” the bulbs, but some growers leave it on. This year we washed the bulbs in the field.
Marketing - Typically, garlic is sold by the pound at festivals, so we weigh and place the bulbs in net bags.
Can be sold by the bulb as well - esp. the extra large and large ones.
Some people braid or tie their garlic, which many customers do seem to like. Also, the garlic seems to keep better with the stalks on.
Raw garlic samples and pictures showing you growing the garlic spark conversation.
Information on how to grow and use garlic is always welcome
Including your business cards with your product promotes future sales
Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland
Growing and Using Garlic by Glenn Andrews (Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletin)
The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks by Ted Jordan Meredith
www.garlicseedfoundation.info/GSF_nematodemanagement1.pdf (article on bloat nematode)
Garlic, Garlic, Garlic by Linda Griffith (recipes)