Fresh garlic is an indispensable addition to my cooking. I use a lot of it throughout the year – so I grow a lot of it.
“Seed garlic” is the term for a bulb of garlic in which the cloves have been separated. The individual cloves are the seed. When the cloves are joined together the garlic is called a bulb.
Garlic is divided into two distinct types: hard neck and soft neck garlic.
in general there are three types of hard neck garlic – Rocambole, Purple Stripe and Porcelain. Hard neck garlic does very well in northern climates. It favors a cold winter followed by a wet spring. Hard neck is the type of garlic I plant.
The “soft neck” variety of garlic is what you’ll probably find in most grocery stores. Soft neck garlic ships well and prefers growing in a warm climate. The two main types of soft neck garlic are Artichoke and Silverskins.
The most important tip for growing great garlic is to start with the correct variety for your area. Not all varieties of garlic grow everywhere with success. Always start with healthy seed garlic. Try and select plump, disease free cloves for planting. The garden site location is important. Rich well-tilled soil with good drainage is an advantage when growing garlic. Good, loamy soil always gives a bigger bulb that produces a thicker stem. A thick stem is an indication of the size and health of the cloves.
In my garden I wait to plant garlic until after a couple of hard frosts. October and November are the best planting times in my area.
And for those of you who like to garden by the moon and the signs, plant garlic in the first or second quarter of the moon under the sign of Scorpio or Sagittarius. Harvest garlic when the moon is in a dry sign – Aries, Leo or Sagittarius.
Here’s How To Plant Garlic
Choose a location with good drainage and full sun. Dig a long, shallow trench about 2” deep and mark the two ends. It’s important to mark the trench row so you’ll be able to find it in the spring. Garlic doesn’t always send up green sprouts in the fall. A lot depends upon the weather. Place a nice size clove root side down and pointed side up snugly into the trench so that it makes good soil contact.
Space the cloves about 4” apart.
Cover with soil and tamp down firmly.
Rows of garlic may be spaced very close. I have success with 12” spacing of rows.
In the spring keep the garlic well weeded and apply mulch if you want.
The mulch will help to retain soil moisture and discourage weeds. I like straw for mulch because it is readily available to me. But you can use anything. Old newspapers and plastic grocery bags will work fine as long as you weigh down and anchor the sides with soil.
If the weather is dry during the spring or the summer, keep the garlic well watered but don’t allow it to become water-logged or it will rot.
When To Harvest
Garlic is ready for harvest when the tops of the plant start to turn brown, die back and topple over. The time that this occurs varies from year to year. For my location harvest time is usually at the middle to end of July, or in some years early August.
The best way to test for harvest is to pull up a garlic plant and check the sheaths that surround the bulb.
The sheath is the layered paper like covering that surrounding the cloves. Two or three layers of sheaths are ideal for garlic.
Harvest garlic by pulling it up carefully by the tops if the ground is moist or use a garden fork. When fresh dug, the bulbs will have soil clinging to the roots.
I spray the soil off with a garden hose and then place the bulbs upon a wire rack to dry out in the sun for a couple of weeks if the weather isn’t too wet and the sun isn’t too hot.
If the weather is extreme (to hot or too wet) I dry the garlic bulbs on a covered porch.
Once the bulbs are good and dry, cut off the roots and either attempt to braid the garlic (hard neck garlic doesn’t braid well) or tie it with twine and hang it. I try to store my garlic at a temperature of between 50ºF – 70ºF.
And when the fall comes around select the biggest and the most perfect bulbs for seed and start the process all over again.