Garlic is such a wonderful crop to grow. Growing your own will provide you with diversity of flavor and the freshest garlic you will ever have access to.
In temperate regions garlic is planted in the Fall where winter temperatures remain above zero degrees fahrenheit. 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. Garlic seed requires a vernalization. Which means the seed needs to be subject to cold conditions in order to accelerate the growth. If you are unable to plant in Fall you can mimic this by placing the garlic in a refrigerator for four to eight weeks before planting.
We typically plant garlic in the month of October here in Southern Oregon. This enables the plant to grow a healthy root system and a small sprout during the fall before slowing way down for winter. Growth will then resume 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 plant a cover crop of buckwheat in the garlic growing area prior to planting. Till in the buckwheat about two to three weeks for planting and use it as a green manure.
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 breaking up the cloves 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 shallowly, 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 impede 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.
Written by Taryn Hunter