Garlic is not only delicious and mega healthy in all kinds of ways, but it is so much fun to grow. It is very easy to replant garlic from ‘last years’ harvest. Our hardneck varieties give us edible stalks called scapes that make a killer garlic scape pesto!
There are so many varieties of garlic that you simply must visit your local farmers markets or look for an organic garlic dealer to sample growing many varieties and pick your favorite food next year.
There are two main types of garlic… Hard neck and softneck. Softneck are typically the commercial garlic version, grow well in southern USA, and do not produce a scape. Hardneck varieties grow well in northern USA climates and they produce a scape near mid June.
The scape starts out like a teardrop on the end of a green pencil, then it begins to loop like a pigs tail. After it starts looping, before the teardrop (flower head) starts to open, clip the scape where it meets the leaves of the plant.
I like to cut the flower off the stalk, then cut the stalks into inch pieces, then toss them in my blender with olive oil, lemon, and a bit of Parmesan until it is smooth. Serve with toasted bread like bruscetta, or on a ham sandwich, or with some crackers or tortillas for dipping. Ham and egg sandwiches with scape pesto are magical. It is unreal how well this combo goes together!
But the scapes are only a bonus. In July or august, you will see the leaves turn 1/3 brown. This is when harvest watch begins. Dig carefully with your fingers and remove some soil from above the bulb without moving the bulb itself. If the bulb is small, cover it back up and avoid checking any others. Wait a few days or a week, depending on what you saw. Garlic bulbs will put on most of its size right before you harvest it.
If the leaves are 1/2 to 2/3 brown, harvest regardless of bulb size. If left in the ground past this point, the bulbs will not be very edible.
To harvest garlic, dig gently around it and clear the dirt below it. Garlic needs to be lifted out of the soil, not pulled up. Pulling can damage the stalk, allowing rot to get into the bulb. You can still use these for dinner right away, but they will not store for long.
Garlic is very susceptible to sunburn, so get it into a well ventilated box or at least out of the sun as soon as possible after harvest.
Do not get the bulbs wet, but try to remove soil that can hold moisture against the bulb. The last little bit of dirt will come off when you peel the outer layer of skin after curing the garlic.
To cure the garlic hang it in a cool, dry place where air can circulate for a month or two. One month under optimal conditions is good, but two months may be required under more humid conditions.
Optimum curing conditions exist between 55F and 65F with humidity at 60%. Colder and it will sprout (no fridge). Warmer and it will dry out. Dryer and it dry out. More humid and it will grow mold and fungus.
After it is cured, the skins will be slightly shriveled. The leaves will be brown and the stems will snap. Cut the roots short and cut of the stem leaving an inch to inch and a half of stem. Carefully peel then outermost layer of skin to remove any debris and you should have a gorgeous bulb ready to store in a cool dark cabinet with some air circulation in there for 6-12 months.
There is an old saying amongst homesteaders… Plant the best and eat the rest. Set your biggest, healthiest cloves aside for planting in October. This ensures the next generation produces the most desirable garlic possible, and so on. That saying applies to any plants or critters around here. The best ones provide the next generation and the others fuel the farmers!
In mid October here, we plant our garlic. They say to plant 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost, but with that frost coming in early October, we plant when we can. After harvesting in august and curing for a month or two (it is humid here in the water park capitol of the world), we plant in mid-october.
I plan on garlic bulbs with 4 cloves, but some garlic definitely have more. Remember, you want to plant the best cloves, so a head with many cloves may only have a few good ones for growing. This means I can plan on 100 seeds from 25 plants, meaning I profit by 75 heads of garlic each year in 32 square feet of space. A 2′ wide, 16′ long bed planted with 3 rows (3 inch from sides) every 6″. I also plant garlic around my fruit trees to keep bugs away, so the math on all that is ‘close enough’.
The more you grow a specific lineage of garlic, the better it adapts to your specific soil and environment. It will grow larger, healthier, and more well adapted to cold or heat or whatever you throw at it over the course of about 6 years.
In loose soil, we plant the individual clove including its skin, oriented with the point up and the hairy bottom down so that our pointer finger tip touches the top of the bulb and our second knuckle at the soil surface. 6-8″ next to it, put another one in the ground. They can be completely boxed in by other garlic as long as they are 6-8″ from any other garlic.
Water completely. Garlic needs water, but it thrives in dryness. It is best to waterlog an area, then stop watering a for a few days or a week. This is better than watering every day or every mother day.
Mulch your garlic with straw. I use 6-8″ of straw and completely cover the garlic bed for overwintering. Water weekly until the ground freezes. At this time, the bulb has shot roots down into the ground, which will prevent freezing and thawing cycles from heaving the bulb out of the ground. Your thickness of mulch will determine how cold it can get and for the garlic to come up next spring.
In the spring, remove the mulch when nighttime temps are above freezing or a couple weeks after daytime temps are above freezing. After the snow melts, the ground will thaw, and your garlic will immediately shoot out its first leaves. Thick mulch will keep the ground too moist and the leaves will not get light through 8″ or more of mulch.
You need to balance removing and replacing mulch with the thaw and freeze cycles until nights no longer freeze. Thinner mulch and milder temps can live together and your leaves will pop out on their own without rotting the bulbs in soaked ground.
Water them heavily, then let the ground dry out a few days before soaking them again. Watch for your scapes to come up and the cycle begins again!