As we wrap up our gardens this season, we can begin to think about all of the crops we want next year. If garlic is not on your list, it should be, and now is the time to act.
Garlic is easy to grow and a great crop for beginner to advanced gardeners. Even though you’ll harvest in July, you’ll need to plant before the end of October. When choosing which garlic you want to plant, know that grocery store garlic is often treated with anti-growth products that will prevent you from being able to grow your own bulbs from those cloves. Therefore, you will need to purchase your bulbs from a garden center or farmer’s market or a seed catalog to start. In future years, you’ll be able to use cloves from your very own harvest to plant for next year! We will have bulbs for you early in October.
If it’s your first time purchasing seed garlic, you might be surprised at all of the varieties that are available. Each variety has a distinct flavor and an average number of cloves to expect per bulb, so do your research, and choose accordingly.
Garlic plants don’t take up a lot of space and are known to repel rabbits and deer, so consider planting them around the edges of your vegetable and flower beds. Find a sunny spot and prepare your soil by digging a trench. If you notice you have heavy clay soil or very sandy soil, you should amend the soil with some compost prior to planting.
To prepare the garlic for planting, break apart each bulb into cloves, keeping the wrapper on each clove. Choose only the largest cloves to plant to ensure the best and biggest bulbs next summer, and use the smaller cloves for food. Plant the cloves immediately after breaking them apart from the bulb to reduce to risk of disease and excess drying.
Make a trench in the soil three times as deep as the clove. Plant each clove pointy side up four to six inches apart. Cover the cloves with soil, water well, and cover the trench with mulch, leaf litter, or grass clippings. Garlic needs water to grow and thrive, so make sure that you continue to water occasionally (about once every three weeks) throughout the winter season.
The tops of the the plants will start to come up through the winter, but don’t worry. Garlic is a hardy plant, and it should survive. Pull any weeds near the plant as it grows, as they will impact the size of the bulb.
If you plant different varieties in your garden, label each one so that you can make keep records of what grew best and which flavors you preferred for the next time you plant.
While garlic is an easy crop to grow, it is vulnerable to several types of rot. Avoid disease by planting only healthy cloves and being careful not to damage any bulbs while planting things nearby in the spring.
You will know that it’s time to harvest your garlic when the green tops turn brown and begin die down, which typically happens in July if you plant in October. If the soil is loose, you can pull the new bulb up by hand, but if it’s not, use a hand tool to get it out of the soil being very careful not to puncture any of the cloves. If you pull the bulb out of compacted soil, it can create wounds in the bulbs or the stem, which can quickly lead to fungal infections. When they’re removed from the soil, gently brush or rub the dirt off and let the remaining residue dry while the garlic cures. Fresh bulbs are very sensitive and bruise easily, so take care with the removal process.
If you want your garlic harvest to last, you need to cure it before you store it. After you pull the bulbs, spread them over or hang them in a warm, airy spot out of direct sun. Do not cover the bulbs with any heavy material, as that can prevent the air flow and encourage rot. If needed, use a lightweight cotton sheet. Store the bulbs at 40-60° F and cure for two to three weeks.
After curing, you can continue to store garlic at room temperature away from sunlight for many months. You can also store it in the refrigerator for the same amount of time. If you want to make things more handy down the road and have it last even longer, you can peel the cloves and cover them in boiling vinegar and store in a tightly fitted jar in the refrigerator.
Remember to save some of your largest cloves from your harvest to turn around and plant in October for the following season. Each individual clove will grow into a complete bulb. They will be among the first sprouts to show up in next year’s garden!