There is nothing quite like garlic. It brings life and wonderful aromas to so many dishes in the kitchen – and is a key ingredient in our salsa and pasta sauce recipes. (see: Pasta Sauce Recipe, and Picante Salsa Recipe)
Garlic is an easy crop to grow – the keys are when and how to plant – and how to harvest, cure and store.
Here in our Central Ohio climate – garlic is usually ready to harvest around the first week or two of July – but can be a bit earlier or later depending on the season’s weather.
The best rule of thumb to follow no matter where you live is to wait until the tops of your garlic begin to brown off and die – and it’s harvest time! This past week was our harvest time – so I thought for today’s gardening article, we would walk you through the harvest, along with talking about some planting tips for this incredibly nutritious and healthy crop!
First and foremost, try to harvest when the soil is dry. It makes the entire process so much easier!
Using a pitchfork or a shovel (I prefer the shovel simply because you can lift the soil better) – carefully dig down about 4 to 6 inches beside each stock – and then lift 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. If there is a little dirt left on them while curing, it will dry and brush off later.
Once you have cleaned them off – it’s best to get them out of the direct sun right away and begin the process of curing the garlic. Curing is different from long-term storage.
To cure, you want to hang the garlic in a well-ventilated space out of the direct sun. For us – we have always hung them on our screened in back porch or inside our barn – where the breeze can still blow through – but they are out of the direct sunlight.
There are several ways to hang it – and all of them will work. Some people can get really fancy with trying the top of the stalks together into a braid – but for us – we simply place about 4 to 6 bulbs together and tie together tightly about ¼ of the way up the stocks of the garlic. Then we hang from a rope and let nature do her thing!
The garlic should hang about two weeks to fully cure – you will know when it ready because the outer layer will dry out and become papery. (like what you find when purchased at the store)
Once the garlic reaches this point and the bulbs have dried – you can take down and cut the stalks about 1” above the bulb heads. Now it is time to store!
Long Term Storage
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.
You will want to save the biggest and best bulb heads for your seed next year. By saving your own “seed” – not only do you save money, but the garlic will grow better each year as it becomes accustomed to your soil and conditions. By selecting the best of the best, you are insuring for a bigger and better crop each year. I am amazed at how much bigger our harvests become each year from selecting our own best seed.
As for planting, for most areas, garlic is best planted in the fall. Although you can plant in the spring, in most climates, the bulbs simply do not have time to grow large, and you are usually left with a paltry harvest.
For us, the best time to plant here is in early to mid-September. It gives the bulb’s time to start growing and the tops to shoot up through the soil. Wherever you live – you want to make sure to plant about 4 to 6 weeks before the first projected frost.
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 shovelfuls 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. 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 protective layer 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.
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.
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. Add a healthy layer (2 to 3”) of straw or shredded leaves on top of your garlic to help insulate it through the winter.
In the spring it will come back to life 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!
Happy Gardening – and Garlic Growing!
Jim and Mary
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Happy Gardening – and Landscaping!
Jim and Mary
Old World Garden Farms