Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. With just a small amount of garden space you can enough garlic to be self-sufficient for the better part of a year.
If you’re like me, you’re destined to spend a decent amount of time this winter dreaming about what you’ll plant in the garden when spring arrives. But if you plan to incorporate a garlic harvest into next year’s season, you’ll need to act much sooner. Though you can plant at any time, for the best results, garlic should be planted in the fall. According to Lynn Byczynski, owner of Seeds from Italy, “Your goal should be to plant within two weeks of the first frost (32°F) so that the cloves develop roots but do not emerge above ground by the time of the first hard freeze (28°F).”
Since we experienced our first frost this week, I’m planning to have my garlic in the ground by the end of this weekend. Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind as I go (and that you’ll want to take note of as well) for a successful harvest next summer.
Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks
Garlic falls into two main categories: Hardneck and softneck. The Daily Green describes the difference like this:
Softnecks, the standard garlics of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.
Prepare Garlic Seed
Garlic is traditionally planted from cloves which are the smaller sections that can be separated from the larger bulb. It is recommended that you plant garlic from “seed garlic” rather than from a bulb of garlic purchased from the grocery store. However, you can certainly plant garlic from bulbs purchased at a farmer’s market or from the produce section. The risk here is that garlic from the grocery store may be an imported variety that is not well-suited for growing in your climate, or it may have been treated with chemicals that make it difficult to sprout/grow. I’m going to experiment with planting from three sources: Farmer’s market garlic, seed garlic (Chesnok Red Organic) and organic garlic purchased at the grocery store.
Start your planting process by pulling the cloves apart from the bulb. Be sure to leave the papery skin intact. As an optional step, Organic Gardening recommends soaking cloves in the following mixture for two hours prior to planting in order to “prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth”:
- 1 quart water
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed
Avoid planting cloves that are tiny, dried out or that show signs of discoloration and mold.
Prepare the Soil
Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. Garlic does not do well in clay soils, which means you may need to amend with sand or vermiculite if you have predominantly clay soil. The soil should also be free of weeds.
Plant the Cloves
To plant your garlic cloves (“seeds”) first dig a 3-inch-deep furrow in the garden bed. Place the seeds with the flat root section down and the pointed section up. If the weather has been dry and you don’t expect rain any time soon, you may want to water the seeds before moving on to the next step.
For those of you with square foot gardens, you can plant either 4 (large varieties) or 9 (small varieties) per square foot. For those of you who garden by the row, 6-8 inches between cloves should be your guideline.
Garlic should be planted in full sun.
Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter
To make sure your garlic has a rich, fertile environment in which to grow, you’ll want to side-dress your seeds with organic matter. Suggested materials include composted manure, alfalfa meal, garden compost or other organic fertilizer. Personally, I plan to use rabbit manure.
After you’ve planted your seed and added fertilizer, cover everything with 6-8 inches of straw mulch. I’ve also used grass clippings and mulched leaves. The mulch will help to keep weeds at bay but will also help to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. In the spring, carefully rake back the mulch to allow the green shoots to more easily emerge and soak up some sunshine.
That’s it! With these few simple steps you can easily grow all the garlic your family will need for the summer, perhaps even for a whole year. Later in the season I’ll share information with you about caring for, harvesting, curing and storing garlic. But for now you know all you need to make sure you don’t miss this perfect opportunity to get out there and plant your garlic before the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.
Alternative Garlic Growing
An alternative way to grow garlic is by planting garlic bulbils. This is a method I discovered while preparing to write this post and is something I’ll spend more time studying this winter. I do love a good experiment so I hope to harvest some garlic bulbils and attempt to propagate more garlic this way in 2015. For more details, click here.