This past weekend, in between the fall rains I made some time to plant my garlic. Around this part of the country, it’s said that garlic should go in the ground around Columbus Day, which is next weekend. Being a little early shouldn’t hurt at all since I won’t have the opportunity to get to it next weekend. I love the tradition of planting fall garlic, it’s one of the major parts of closing down the garden for the year, but instead of just pulling up browned, and wasted plants it is refreshing to put new life into the ground. When spring comes the tender green tips of garlic will be one of the first things to pop up into the garden marking the beginning of the growing season.
I think growing garlic is important because so much of the garlic that we find in stores is imported from places like China, and treated with tons of chemicals, including bleach to make it very white and appealing to the eye. This is not the type of garlic I prefer to put into my food. Home-grown garlic has so much more flavor and way fewer chemicals, making it easily the better option.
These instructions are based on successes and failures in my own garden, what works well in my area in zone 5 (Upstate, NY) may not work well in your own garden.
Types of Garlic
There are a few major types of garlic. Due to how far north we are, hardneck garlic is typically the garlic of choice for local growers since it is capable of withstanding our frosty winters. This version is also the type that produces wonderful curled scapes in the early summer that are also edible. Softneck garlic can be grown in milder regions, and typically does not produce scapes. It is, however, the type of garlic that is good for braiding. Finally, elephant garlic is a large, mildly flavored version, which only produces four to 6 large cloves.
Where & When to Plant Garlic
Find a spot to plant your garlic in a well-drained bed that will get plenty of sun, at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Fall planting allows the garlic to overwinter and begin growing in the earliest parts of spring producing large bulbs. Garlic can also be planted in the late winter or early spring but these bulbs will be smaller than the fall planted version.
How to Plant Garlic
- Loosen the soil to roughly a foot of depth. Amend the soil if needed (usually, mature compost is best).
- Just before planting break the bulbs into their individual cloves, leave the papers on the garlic. This will protect the garlic from cold and disease. An entire bulb will grow from a single bulb.
- Push the cloves into the ground about 4 inches deep and roughly 6 inches apart, with the root end down, and cover them with soil.
- Add a heavy (4-5 inch) layer of mulch.
- In the spring water the garlic regularly, as you would any other garden plant.
- When the scapes begin to grow and uncurl snip them off. It is said that they will detract from the growth of the bulbs, besides they are delicious in a stir fry.
Harvesting the Garlic
- Watch the garlic as summer approaches, usually around June the bottom leaves will begin to turn yellow. At this point, you want to stop watering the garlic and pull back any remaining mulch. This will allow the garlic to begin to dry out while still in the ground.
- Once a few weeks have passed, and just over half of the leaves have begun to turn yellow the bulbs are ready to be harvested.
- Carefully loosen the soil by hand and gently pull the bulbs up. It’s important not to bruise or pierce the bulbs while you are doing this. Without damaging the papery wrappings, gently brush the bulbs of excess dirt and trim the roots. Move the plants to a protected and airy place to cure for 2 or 3 weeks.
- Once the garlic has cured for a few weeks, cut the stalks a few inches from the neck of the bulb and use or store them. A cool, dark, and well-ventilated place is best for storing garlic.