Alright, fellow gardeners, let's talk about planting garlic. I finally feel like I am getting to the point where I can actually start giving advice and tips about gardening, how we do things, and start moving away from so much, "This is just our experience story." While I love that side to it so much, I know that there are a lot of your craving the how side to it, and that's awesome. My fear is always that I will give you false advice, maybe even be told that I am doing something wrong, which is why I am constantly seeking out research-based information and becoming a Master Gardener. I love growing food and learning about growing food! But I am not an expert; just an honest hobbyist who is learning as well. And I know a lot of you are just like me; you want to know how to get started, what the best steps to take are, and how we possibly grew so much produce in our first year gardening. It wasn't easy, but it also wasn't impossible, and I think anyone that has good soil and spot to grow in can do this!
If you are planning to start your own garden next year, or if you already have one, now is the time to plant your garlic! Garlic can be planted in early spring if you live in a warmer climate, but grows best if planted in the fall. By planting seven to nine months before harvest, which is in midsummer, you are allowing the plants to establish better root systems and produce larger bulbs. Yay! We all want those gorgeous garlic bulbs, right? Like most organic gardening sites, I am also going to recommend staying away from planting garlic that you purchase that grocery store. It was not stored with conditions to be planted, but you probably could grow a successful crop from a bulb bought at the grocery store. Most people will tell you to not do this because of the flavor, which yeah, that's a good point. Any homegrown vegetable tastes better! I am suggesting you don't do this because you really don't know where that garlic came from, especially if you're buying conventionally farmed garlic and not certified organic. There are a bunch of places where you can purchase organic planting garlic! I bought mine from Botanical Interests this year, and I actually have loved using their seeds for the majority of my plantings last year. They have a great selection of organic seeds. Looking at their website by this date, it looks like they sold out! We do have quite a few garden centers around us selling planting garlic right now, some of them grown by local farms.
I picked out three varieties of garlic this year, two softneck and one hardneck. These are the only two types of garlic you can grow but there are a lot of choices under each type! Softneck garlic can grow in a lot of climates but does best in mild areas where the soil does not freeze. Wish me luck, because it gets cold here! It mastures quickly and can be stored for up to 9 months if kept well. It also braids really beautifully! The types of softneck I bought are California Early, which produces 12-20 sweet, plump cloves with a mild flavor. It's a pretty common grocery store variety! I also am growing Silver White that will produce 10-12 small cloves. The hardneck variety I chose is Purple Glazer, which is the purple colored bulb that will produce around 8-10 cloves that are easy to peel. It has a sweet, strong flavor and does really well in cold winters! Hardnecks also produce a tall stalk called a scape, which are delicious! They do not store as long as a softnecks, though.
You'll want a rich, well-draining soil to plant garlic, and you will definitely want to amend your soil with compost or a light mulch like straw to keep the soil moist over winter and to insulate the cloves. You do not have to water over winter if you get snow, but as the snow starts to thaw, you will want to begin watering again in the spring time. The soil should be kept moist, not soggy, as garlic loves water just like onions! If you live in a place where the ground thaws in winter, then you may need to check on the soil to make sure it is not dry.
In spring, when the shoots begin to emerge, you may want to think about adding a natural fertilizer. I will be using compost tea, Bokashi juice, or worm castings and tea in spring! I have only really applied fertilizer once or twice during plant growth, when they are actively producing, to make sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need.
When you are ready to plant, get out your bulbs and separate the cloves. You do not need to peel them, leave the skins on! Plant them in at least 2 inches deep of soil and in rows that are 12"-18" apart. If they are spaced too close together, you may have smaller cloves! I spaced my cloves themselves about 5"-7" apart. Each of my bulbs produced two rows worth of cloves, and each clove will produce a new bulb!
The cloves should be planted with the root end down in the soil, and the pointier end should be facing towards the sky, Be careful when you are covering them with soil that the cloves do not fall over, but you can't really do too much about this. The rooting end will begin to grow roots now through the next several weeks before the ground begins to freeze. You want to plant at least 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. Here, that's through the middle of September to the middle of November. We just experienced our first light frost early last week! It was shocking!!
Cover with soil, compost, and mulch to protect them until spring. I am really excited to see what we get out of these bulbs! It will be so nice to have our own garlic, though I am not sure it will last us all year round... I go through so much of it! As we are (officially) starting our CSA next season, I am hoping that we have some bulbs to throw into our boxed shares as well. Really cool! Make sure that you label your garlic varieties and where you planted them as well. I am sure that by the time the ground thaws and the snow has melted, I will have forgotten where my cloves were planted. I made sure to label them since I will not see any growth until summer!
Are you planting garlic this year? Which varieties did you choose?