Garlic is a Lily family vegetable that is grown for its swollen bulbs. It was domesticated from a biennial lily bulbing plant in central Eurasia.
Growing Tips: It is usually planted in the fall in temperate locales where winter temperature remain above zero degrees fareinheit. In colder climates such as the North Eastern U.S. it is planted in the spring, however larger bulb size is more difficult to obtain with spring planting. We typically plant garlic in the month of October. This enables the plant to grow a healthy root system and some tops in the fall before slowing way down for winter and resuming growth once temperatures warm in February and March. Some hardneck varieties will wait to make any top growth until January & February, but rest assured they are busily making roots. If in doubt, you can dig up some cloves to gauge their progress.
Soil Preparation: Like most Alliums, Garlic is an inefficient feeder. This means that if you want your garlic to size up nicely, you should have supplied adequate to abundant fertility in the form of compost, well balanced organic nitrogen fertilizer. A good approach is to cover crop your garlic area with buckwheat cover crop prior to planting and till this green manure crop into the soil 2-3 weeks before planting.
Spacing: Garlic does not make a very large plant, but it does take some space to make a nice big plant. We usually space garlic 3-4 rows per 4 foot wide bed with 8-10 inches between plants. Planted closer together and you may sacrifice bulb size and make weeding more difficult.
Planting techniques: Break up the bulb into individual cloves, taking care to try and disturb the clove wrappers as little as possible. Hardneck types tend to lose some wrappers in the process of breaking them up; this is normal. Garlic should be planted within a few weeks of planting to avoid the cloves drying out. Place cloves into the soil as deep as they are long. This usually means planting to a depth where 1-2” of soil covers the tops of the clove. If planted too shallow, the action of frost heave can push garlic right out of the ground. Planted too deeply, garlic can rot in wet soils.
Cultural Techniques: As the saying goes, “you can grow weeds or garlic, but you can’t grow both.” I find this to be true, however mellow spring weeds such as chick- weed, veronica speedwell and spring cress do little to impeed growth and provide a nice living mulch if you chose to garden more on the wild permaculture side of life. Otherwise keep your garlic patch well weeded.
Pre-Harvest – Stop watering about 10 days pre-harvest (for us this is about summer solstice, anticipating a July 4th harvest)
Harvest: Harvest your garlic when the leaves begin to yellow and dry down. We usually use the number of remaining green leaves as a gauge to determine the right time to harvest. I want to see a minimum of 5-6 green leaves left as each leave equates to one bulb wrapper, so you can imagine that after cleaning each bulb you’ll want to have some wrappers left for optimal storage ability.