Growing garlic is a lot of fun. The health benefits of garlic are well documented and what’s more, it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow at home. The best part is that you don’t need to buy seed – garlic grows from the very same cloves that you eat. You know how garlic starts growing a green sprout if you leave it too long in the pantry before using it? That sprout means it is bursting with life and ready to be planted. Instead of throwing them out, plant them! Here’s how to grow garlic from cloves.
Garlic comes in two basic varieties: hardnecks and softnecks. Hardnecks usually have a small number of large cloves while softnecks have a larger number of small cloves. In general, hardnecks are better for colder winters and softnecks for mild winters, but both can be grown in just about any climate. You can buy starter cloves from a local grower or grow from store bought bulbs. Keep in mind, however, that most types you find in the supermarket are grown in mild climates and may not be suitable for your area. Also make sure the garlic you are using is free of unwanted chemicals.
WHEN TO PLANT
Garlic should be planted in the fall (mid-October is usually best for most regions) for an early summer harvest. They need cold weather to yield a robust crop. Plant your garlic from about 2 weeks before the first freeze of the winter to 2 weeks after. The best time is about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. The idea is to get a strong root structure established but little to no top growth just before winter arrives.
WHERE TO GROW
Garlic does best in full sun, though it can tolerate some shade. Raised beds are ideal, unless you are growing in an extremely dry climate. Garlic will also grow in containers.
Garlic can grow in many different soil types, even gravel, but it does best in loose, loamy, well-drained soil that is rich with lots of organic matter.
Garlic cloves act as seeds to produce garlic bulbs. These are the small sections of each garlic bulb used to eat. The larger cloves will yield larger bulbs. Each individual clove will yield a new bulb. Plant each clove pointy end up (sprout end up if they are already sprouting), about 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart. Be sure to only use firm cloves that are not dried out, decaying or infested with blue mold. It’s best not to break up bulbs until the day you plan to plant.
Once planted, top off with about 4 inches of organic mulch such as straw or dried grass and leaves.
Garlic shoots will emerge from the mulch after about 4 to 8 weeks. Once the shoots have formed leave the mulch to preserve moisture and kill any weeds. There won’t be much growth during the winter months but don’t worry, they’ll start growing again in the spring. You can trim a few shoots off for cooking while they’re growing, but don’t cut too many or it will stunt the growth of the garlic bulb.
Water regularly, about 1 inch per week. Once the leaves begin to yellow, lay off the watering to let the bulbs firm.
Use a liquid fertilizer every two weeks once the leaves begin to grow. A blend of seaweed mix and fish emulsion works great.
The flower stalks (scapes) need to be pruned in the spring before they develop flowers so they don’t take energy away from the garlic bulbs. Don’t throw them away, though! Garlic scapes are a great culinary ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways (see 10 Ways to Use Garlic Scapes).
Garlic does not compete well with weeds so make sure to weed thoroughly.
Garlic is ready for harvest once about ¾ of the leaves turn yellow-brown. This usually happens the summer after your fall planting. Carefully dig up each bulb so as not to break the stem from the bulb. Use a shovel or other garden tools to assist you. Remove from the sun immediately. Hang the bulbs in bundles of 6 to 10 in a shady, dry (ideally drafty) area to cure. Once the garlic is thoroughly dry, trim the roots and remove the stalk. They are ready to eat.