Garlic grows rapidly during a brief favorable period. It stores energy "reserves" in the garlic bulb followed by a dormancy period until seasonal condition are once again favorable for growth. This cycle repeats year after year. Human intervention is not required for this cycle to continue; however, gardeners have participated in the cultivation of the plant for many years. Cultivation of the plant provides gardeners with the storage organ (garlic clove) and the garlic bulb and the ability to possibly control the bulb size.
A loose, well drained soil with a ph of 6.5 to 7 is ideal. Soil should be worked to a depth of 18". Working in organic matter or fertilizer helps promote good growth and bulb size.
A good rule of thumb is to space your rows at least one foot apart. Plants should be about 6" apart in each row. Mounding your rows or planting in raised beds helps the soil to drain properly and reduces the amount of mulch needed to cover your crops.
Buying your bulbs locally assures the gardener that the crop has been successfully grown and acclimated to their growing zone. Planting the largest cloves usually produces a larger bulb and milder flavor. Planting small and medium cloves provide the most flavorful bulb. To rejuvenate the flavor of the bulbs, bulbils should be planted every few years. Bulbils are capable of producing small bulbs or rounds the first year and can be planted the same as regular cloves the following year.
Prior to planting, you must separate the cloves from the bulb. This is referred to as "popping". Popping should be done as close to the day of planting as possible. Cloves can be soaked overnight in a mixture of 1 gal. of water to 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Just before planting, soak the cloves in isopropyl alcohol for no more than 4 minutes. This helps reduce the risk of infection to the clove. Our garlic is planted in the fall, 3-5 weeks before the ground begins to freeze. This is usually mid-October thru mid-November. Planting too early will promote late fall above-ground growth to the plant. Plant the cloves 2-4" deep, root side down. Cover with soil and mulch.
Fertilization is essential for healthy plant growth. Fertilizer can be organic or non-organic. Both provide nutrients to the plant. Garlic is a low nitrogen feeder, but demands potassium and phosphates. Testing your soil to meet the ph levels and micronutrients needed is highly recommended.
A good rule of thumb is to fertilize prior to planting. The second application is middle to end of March and final application in May. We do not recommend any fertilization after May.
Mulch provides moisture retention, temperature moderation, weed suppression and soil amendment. Use approximately 2-6 inches of mulch after planting. We use about 2" and find it sufficient for our area. You can use straw, leaf mulch, grass clippings, etc.
Your best harvest comes from soil that is kept moist. Mulching helps retain moisture in your soil. During dry periods, water should be applied at a rate of 1/2-1" per week. Stop watering 1-2 weeks prior to harvesting, depending on the moisture content in your soil. Bulbs that are harvested in moist to dry soil are easier to remove and clean than those that are harvested in wet, muddy soil.
There is a two-fold benefit to scape removal. Removing the scape prevents bulb reduction by sending more nutrients to the bulb. Garlic scapes are visually appealing. They are textured like asparagus with a mild garlic flavor. Harvest the scapes anytime they begin to curl but before they uncurl (usually early June). Use a sharp knife or scissor to remove the scape just above the top leaf. The best time to harvest scapes are early in the day. This allows the sun ample time to seal the plant where the scape was cut. Scapes can be refrigerated for several week. Scapes can also be frozen. For recipes using scapes, see our "recipe" page.
Garlic is usually harvested in July, after being in the ground for 9 months. Garlic harvested too early will not have the great flavor and aromas that a mature bulb has. Garlic harvested too late will not have the bulb wrappers intact and greatly reduce the storage life. A good rule of thumb is to harvest the garlic bulb when one half of the leaves are green and one half of the leaves are brown. We use a potato fork to loosen the soil and pull out the plant. Put your plants in a shaded area immediately after harvesting.
Upon harvesting, hang the entire garlic plant in a well ventilated area, shaded and sheltered from the weather. The plants can be bundled in groups of 12-15 using bailing twine. Circulating fans are recommended to assist in the drying process, but not required. Temperature, humidity and circulation will determine how long it will take to dry the garlic. Four weeks is an average drying time. Keep the garlic heads on the stalk until the entire plant has turned brown and dry. Once the plant has completely dried, cut the garlic bulb off of the plant leaving approximately 1/2-1" of the stalk. Trim the roots of the bulb to approximately 1/4".
Garlic can be stored in a mesh bag in a cool dry place. Do not refrigerate garlic. The longer the bulbs are stored, the more critical the optimum temperature and humidity becomes. The optimum temperature is 56-58 degrees fahrenheit. The optimum humidity is 45-50 %.