How to Grow Garlic
Choosing your garlic planting stock - Your seed stock is the most important facet of growing garlic. It all starts at the clove! Each individual clove is a garlic seed and it will grow into a bulb. Beginning with premium garlic planting seed stock will make a huge difference come harvest time. When choosing your garlic seed, plant the largest cloves of each garlic bulb, small cloves should be eaten. To separate cloves from the bulb, hold the bulb in one hand and use the other hand to break the cloves free of the bulb. To maximize the size of the bulbs for your harvest you should plant the largest cloves from the largest bulbs. You will definitely harvest what you plant so plant the big stuff and eat the little stuff.
A garlic bulb is made up of several cloves each one surrounded by a shiny hard skin. Some varieties such as the artichokes can have 3 to 5 layers of cloves and total 20 or so cloves per bulb. Others like the porcelains have fewer fatter cloves and may only contain 4 cloves per bulb. It is these individual cloves that you divide and plant. Each of these cloves will grow and form a complete bulb of garlic for the new harvest season.
Preparing your soil for planting garlic - Your soil is the next most important thing to growing garlic. Organic garlic loves good drainage and loamy, fertile soil. Amending the soil with organic matter such as compost, manure, leaf mulch and aged straw is highly recommended. Your soil should have a neutral ph level between 6 and 7.
Planting Garlic - When to plant your garlic - We start planting garlic in Michigan around Columbus day and continue planting garlic thru November. This is a good guide line for almost all climates. Plant at the turning point of the seasons; with enough time for planting garlic before the ground is frozen. Try to allow three to four weeks for the cloves to settle into their winter beds, this will help the leaf development in the spring. Plant the organic garlic seed 5 to 6 inches apart with the tips up. Cover the top with 3/4 inch to 1 inch of amended, loose dirt and gently pat down the top layer of soil. In colder climates cover your organic garlic seed with 1 1/2 to 2 inches of dirt. Garlic does not care for dry soil conditions so depending on your soil type you may need to provide irrigation. We are fortunate that our soil has maintained a good moisture level for our garlic without any supplemental watering on our part so far. It seems that our thick clay like soil helps to hold the moisture near the roots. We also leave the straw on our field throughout the growing season (sometimes we pull it slightly away from the new shoots as they emerge but it’s not really necessary) as this also helps to keep the soil moist. The most critical time for irrigation is from late May through early July when the bulbs are forming. Lack of adequate water during this time may result in smaller bulb sizes. Be sure to stop watering two weeks prior to harvest to avoid diseases and keep bulb wrappers from staining or in our case - to ensure you can get them dug out of the field without getting stuck in the mud.
Garlic does not like weeds! We don't use any type of chemical weed control on our garlic as we prefer to grow chemical free garlic since we do actually plan on eating it. All of our weed control methods have been mechanical and at times quite challenging.
We have found that keeping the layer of straw mulch on the field helps with controlling the weeds quite a bit too. Garlic shoots are quite strong and have no problem whatsoever poking up through the straw in the spring and we've never had a problem with any bulbs staying too moist and rotting
Garlic likes to be kept evenly moist. Uneven watering may cause irregular shaped bulbs. This is where your good soil preparation and mulching becomes important. Water your garlic regularly during the leaf production stage. Apply some nitrogen rich foliage feed 2 to 3 times in spring.
As they grow, the hardneck varieties will begin to form scapes with bulbils. It is thought that the formation of scapes can reduce the yield of your garlic because the plant is using energy to form the bulbils that could have gone into the formation of the garlic bulb instead. The reduction is said to be most pronounced in less fertile soil and less of an issue in well fertilized soil rich in organic matter. If you're going to remove your scapes the best time to do it is when you observe them just starting to curl. To remove them you just snap or cut them off. Scapes can be used in any number of recipes and are also good in salads so if you remove your scapes be sure to save a few for eating. (scapes can also be dehydrated or frozen for later use if youd like) If you do leave the scapes on and they form bulbils, the bulbils are also edible and are nice added to a salad, stir fry, soup, or wherever you'd like to add a little fresh garlic flavor.
When to harvest garlic- Hardnecks will produce a flower or bulbil on a hard woody scape. These need to be removed so the plant puts energy into growing the bulb rather then the flower. Softnecks only produce a scape when the plant is under stress and this usually means the plant is ready for harvest. Stop watering when the plant starts to brown up, about two weeks before harvest. When the plant has three to four browned leaves it is ready for harvest. To avoid damaging the outer skins, always use a shovel to carefully remove the garlic bulb from the earth, don't just pull it out. Gently remove the dirt from the roots and outer skin, but don't remove outer skin. It is best to harvest when the temperature is cool, either early morning or late evening.
Curing and Storing Garlic - Bundle your garlic plants with twine and hang to cure. Choose an area with good circulation and out of direct sunlight. Curing your garlic will take 3 to 4 weeks. You will know it is ready when you cut the first stalk, if garlic juice oozes from the stalk - it's not quite ready. Once garlic is cured, cut off stalk leaving 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Trim roots to 1/4 inch and gently brush off outer layer of dirt being careful not to peel off outer skin. Your garlic should be stored in a cool dry place. 50 to 60 degrees is ideal. A root cellar or cool basement is a good storage place. Do not store in a refrigerator. When choosing which garlic bulbs to eat first, always eat the largest first, the smaller garlic bu After the garlic has dried for three or four weeks we take it down, cut the roots off leaving about a inch or so and cut the stalks about 2 inches above the bulb, put the garlic in mesh bags and start sharing it with friends and family. We leave the garlic that well be using for seed hanging in the corn crib until its needed for planting in the fall.
Some varieties naturally store longer than others, but most should be able to store at ordinary room temperature for at least six months after it comes out of the ground. Other varieties will store for almost a year. Garlic needs to be stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Garlic also needs to breathe and allowing the correct air circulation will extend its shelf life. Garlic can be kept in something as simple as a mesh bag or brown paper bag. An excellent way to store garlic is in a special garlic keeper designed with holes to allow the air to circulate.
Never keep your garlic in your refrigerator. It will sprout and become bitter and it is likely to go soft and moldy. The same problem is likely to occur if garlic is stored in a sealed plastic container. If you don't use that much garlic and you know that the bulb will be sitting there for a long time, it is better to freeze it or store it by one of the many methods. If garlic begins to sprout or go soft then it is past its prime. Throw it out.
Important: Never store raw garlic in oil at room temperature - this can lead to botulism and possible death.