Garlic is a staple in our household. Whether added to a pasta dish, salsa or stir fry – it seems like a clove or two finds its way into our meals almost daily. In addition, the consumption of garlic has many well known health benefits – including its antioxidant properties. It is also an easy crop to grow and store, making it a great addition to grow in your garden.
There are two basic types of garlic – hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic grows well in warmer and milder climates, and usually are grown in the same calendar season. They do not produce scapes, but do tend to store a little better than the hardneck. Softneck varieties are used to make the garlic braids you see in stores.
Hardneck varieties grow best in the cooler climates of the Northern US – and are the most commonly planted form of garlic. It is also what we plant and will cover in today’s post. Hardneck garlic should be planted in the fall for an early to mid-summer harvest the following year. Hardneck varieties are also what produce garlic scapes - the delicate shoots coveted by many chefs and cooks each spring to add great flavor to salads and dishes of all types.
THE BASICS OF HARDNECK GARLIC:
When To Plant:
Although you can plant garlic in the spring, the best time to plant it is in the fall, allowing for a nice mature crop to be harvested the following early summer. We have grown it both in the spring and fall, and quite frankly, the spring garlic just does not have enough time to develop much bulb growth. Fall planted garlic can produce larger yields – and the taste is far superior than spring planted bulbs. For us best time to plant here is in mid September to early October.
Much like most vegetables, garlic will grow best in rich, fertile and loose soil – so it is best to work in a generous amount of compost to your soil prior to planting. If your soil tends to be on the hard-pan clay side, don’t be afraid to add a few shovel-fulls of sand in when you work your beds. Along with the compost, it will help to loosen up the soil structure and make it easier for the garlic to grow.
Each single clove of a garlic bulb is an individual “seed” that will grow a full bulb. In general – the larger the clove – the larger the full garlic bulb will be that is grown. We like to select the largest of the bulbs each year to use as our seed cloves for the coming year. To prepare the cloves for planting – take your bulbs and separate each clove carefully – trying to keep as much of the papery skin in tact. The skin serves as a protectant for the garlic as it sits in the soil waiting to sprout.
Some people like to soak their cloves a day or two before planting in a quart jar filled with water and a teaspoon of baking soda. It is said to help the garlic sprout and help prevent ground rot. We have never used the procedure and our garlic has always performed well without it.
Garlic can be mass planted in raised beds or raised rows like ours – so we actually plant 3 rows in a single 18 to 24″ wide strip – leaving about 4 to 5″ inches between each planted row. It can also be grown in a single row if you wish.
Once you have decided where to plant – dig a trench about 4 inches deep. We then like to fill in the trench without about an inch of compost, and then plant each bulb down into the compost layer. When planting – make sure to keep the pointy end of each garlic clove up – and the flat end down. Then simply cover up with the remaining soil, and add a few inches of straw or shredded leaves as a mulch for the cold winter months.
You should see shoots coming through the ground within 2 to 4 weeks and the garlic will continue to form and grow before going dormant in the cold winter months. No worries – it will come back to life in the spring and continue growing. Keep your garlic weeded and mulched through the spring – the less it has to compete for nutrients – the larger your resulting cloves and harvest will be!
In late spring / early summer – you will notice curly spikes starting to emerge from your hardneck garlic – these are known as garlic scapes. You will want to cut these off as they appear – which will force the garlic to grow larger bulbs underneath the soil and not spend it’s energy on the curvy and exotic looking scapes. Don’t just toss away those scapes however – they make a delicious addition to salads and dishes in the kitchen! See : What To Make With Garlic Scapes
Here in our Central Ohio climate – garlic is usually ready to harvest around the first week of July. The tops of the garlic will begin to brown off, and as soon as to 3/4 of the top stalk begins to die off, it’s harvest time!
Using a pitchfork or a shovel – carefully dig your garlic by digging down about 6 inches beside the stocks – and lifting them slowly from the earth. We then use our hands to gently knock off all of the soil from around the garlic bulb and roots – taking care not to damage any of the cloves or stems. The more careful you are in this stage – the better chance your garlic has to cure and then store later without losing any to rot.
Once you have cleaned them off – it’s best to get them out of the direct sun, and begin the process of curing the garlic. Curing is different from long-term storage. To cure, we like to hang the garlic in a well ventilated space out of the direct sun.
For us – our back porch is a prime curing location. We hang the garlic up for a few weeks and allow it to air-dry. Once the bulbs are dry – you can then cut off the stalk about 1″ above the bulbs and the roots to about a half inch below the bulb. Store your garlic in a cool-dark place for use throughout the year. Garlic will keep longer if you allow for air circulation. We keep ours in a mesh bag in a dark corner area of the basement – and it usually will keep through the winter.
So get ready to plant some garlic this fall and Happy Gardening!
Mary and Jim