At a time when most of us here in the Midwest are in the process of harvesting the last of our summer vegetables – its nice to know that we can still satisfy our planting urges with a fall planting of garlic and onions.

Fresh Garlic pulled from the soil this past June
Fresh Garlic pulled from the soil.

Garlic is a great fall crop here in the North – allowing for a late June / Early July harvest next year of beautiful and tasty cloves.  And although a little less commonly known and practiced – it’s also a great time to sneak in a planting of onions!

Fall Garlic Planting

Although garlic can be planted in the spring (especially soft-neck varieties in the warmer climates of the South) – the best time to plant hardneck garlic here in the Midwest is in the fall.

A single clove of garlic ready to be planted. Separate your bulbs into single cloves and plant with the pointed side up a few inches down in the soil
A single clove of garlic ready to be planted. 

Hardneck varieties are the most commonly planted form of garlic – and are also what produce garlic scapes – the delicate shoots coveted by many to add great flavor to salads and dishes of all types.

Fall garlic planting allows for a mature crop of beautiful and delicious bulbs to be harvested the following year – usually in late June to early July.

When To Plant: 

For us here in the Midwest and for most of the Northern states – the best time to plant garlic is in mid to late September or the first week of October.

Soil Prep:

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 prior to planting.

Make sure to plant with the pointy end of the garlic up.
Make sure to plant with the pointy end of the garlic up.

If your soil tends to lean more to the clay-side, don’t be afraid to add a few shovel-fulls of sand when you work your beds. Along with the compost, it will help to loosen the soil structure and make it easier for the garlic to grow.  If you have grown potatoes this year – garlic is an excellent crop to plant in its place – the soil should already be loose and friable from the potato crop.

Planting Garlic:

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 grown will be. We select the largest of the bulbs grown 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.

Garlic shooting up in early fall through the straw mulch
Garlic shooting up in early fall through the straw mulch

Some prefer 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 – we plant 3 rows in a single 18 to 20″ wide strip – leaving about 4″ inches between each planted row in the bed. It can also be grown in a single row if you wish.

Garlic growing in the early spring
Garlic growing in the early spring

Once you have decided on where to plant – dig a trench about 3 to 4 inches deep. 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 cover with a light layer of shredded leaves or straw to keep the soil mulched and help with weed control.

Water your crop in – and be sure to keep the soil watered every three or four days if mother nature does not provide any.

You should see shoots coming through the ground within 2 to 4 weeks. The garlic will continue to form and grow before going dormant in the cold winter months.  As winter approaches – we add an additional two to three-inch layer of straw or shredded leaf mulch to help insulate the crop.

Overnight Refrigerator Pickles - one of our favorites!
Overnight Refrigerator Pickles – one of our favorites!

When Spring arrives – your crop will come back to life and continue its growth. 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!

The crop will be ready to harvest in Mid to late June – or whenever the tops brown off,  The best part of garlic is that is easy to store for use the year around with all of the great recipes they lend their flavor to!  (see: Overnight Pickle Recipe) and Home Made Pasta Sauce

Don’t Forget The Onions!

As we mentioned at the beginning of the post – although a little more unknown – you can also plant a fall crop of onions – and yes – even in the North.  Fall planted onions will mature quickly next spring in time for a late June / early July harvest as well – and always seem to bring a much larger size of onion than our same-year planted crops.

You can plant fall onions as well - even in the North!
You can plant fall onions as well – even in the North!

Onions can be planted at the same time as your garlic – with the same soil prep and spacing of planting rows. The only difference with onions is in the depth of planting – for onion bulbs – plant them near the surface in the trench – with about 1/4″ of soil covering them up. We have had the best success with mild flavored yellow onion sets for fall planting.

Again, much like garlic – be sure to supply your onion crop with a healthy layer of mulch for the winter months and to keep weeds to a minimum.

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Happy Fall Planting!!!  Jim and Mary – Old World Garden Farms

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