How To Grow Garlic

Mary's GardenPhoto by John Freeland

Garlic is very easy to grow and produces many bulbs after a long growing season. This vegetable is frost tolerant. Beyond its culinary uses and intense flavor, the stinking rose is also good in the garden as an insect repellent and has been used as a home remedy for many centuries. As far as we are concerned, this vegetable gets the blue ribbon for growing your own, since it is absurdly easy to plant and care for.

Garlic look beautiful, it tastes great, and it takes up so little ground that even those with very small gardens can raise enough to be self-sufficient in garlic for a good part of the year. All you have to do is find the right variety, plant at the proper time in the right soil, and then harvest and store when just right and correctly.

When to plant

All you have to do is plant cloves in well-drained beds in fall, just after the first frost has passed and the soil is cool. In late winter, cloves can also be planted as soon as the soil thaws. However, fall-planted garlic produces better and bigger bulbs.

How to plant

The very first step is to find a sunny site and then loosen the planting bed to at least twelve inches deep. Once that is done, thoroughly mix in a one-inch layer of mature compost. If you are planting in acidic soil, make sure to also mix in a light dusting of wood ashes. Break bulbs into cloves just before planting. Poke the cloves into the ground four inches deep and about seven inches apart, with their pointed ends up. At the end, cover the planted area with three to five inches of organic mulch, like shredded leaves.

Harvest and store

Watch plants closely from early summer to midsummer and harvest garlic when the soil is dry and about 1/3 of the leaves appear withered and pale. Before pulling the plants, use a digging fork to loosen the soil. Make sure to handle the newly pulled bulbs gently in order to avoid bruising them. Once you’ve pulled whole plants out, lay them out to dry in an airy, warm spot which is protected from direct sun and rain.

Brush off soil from the bulbs with your hands after a week or so, and use pruning shears to clip roots to ½ inch long. You should wait another week, before trimming and braiding softneck varieties into clusters or clipping off the steams of hardneck varieties. In addition, don’t remove the papery outer wrappers, because these protect the cloves from rotting and inhibit sprouting.

Storage life of garlic varies, depending on growing and storage conditions as well as variety. If you keep it at 50 to 60 degrees F, softneck and elephant garlic store for 8 months or more, rocamboles store about 4 months, while other hardneck varieties normally last 6 months. Braid softneck types and suspend from rafters in a dry, cool garage or basement, and hang your cured crop in mesh bags.

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