A Guide to Growing Garlic
Garlic is an ancient food that we still enjoy today. Originating in Central Asia, it has been used for more than 7,000 years. It can now be found growing throughout the world.
Garlic is usually divided into three categories: soft-neck varieties, hard-neck varieties and elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is not a true garlic. It is actually a wild leek and only has 4 to 6 large cloves in each bulb.
Soft-neck garlic refers to the fact that the central stalks of the foliage are soft and can be braided for storage. Soft-neck garlic is best grown in warmer climates. Hard-neck garlic, as its name implies, has a hard central stalk and is best grown in colder climates.
All three types of garlic can be successfully grown by home-gardeners in all climates.
Prepare your garden
In your sunny garden, prepare a bed by loosening the soil to a depth of one foot. You may add up to 1 inch of compost. If your soil is acidic, a layer of ash is recommended.
Planting your garlic
Garlic is usually planted in the fall. Planting it in the spring will result in smaller bulbs and milder flavor. Break apart your bulbs into individual cloves a few days before you plant it. Do not disturb the paper covering to avoid rot. Plant your cloves 4 to 6 weeks before your first frost. Plant them with the point upwards. The roots will grow from the flat end. Plant the cloves 4 inches deep and 8 inches apart. Then cover with a thick layer of mulch at least 4 inches deep to protect the bulbs during the winter. If green shoots appear, cover them with mulch to prevent freezing.
In warmer climates, garlic can be planted in the late winter or very early spring, February to March. Plant them the same way and mulch heavily to protect from sudden cold snaps.
Make sure that your garlic is protected by that thick layer of mulch all winter but in the spring, as green shoots appear, you may move the mulch away from them leaving the mulch between the plants. The shoots that appear from your hard neck garlic are called scapes and are a culinary delight on their own. Harvesting and eating them helps your garlic by forcing the plants to concentrate their energy in growing the bulbs rather than the foliage. You may begin harvesting your scapes when they reach a height of 4 to 6 inches. You can eat them raw or cooked.
Although related to onions, garlic is not harvested when its foliage has completely died back. Rather, it is best harvested when about a third of the foliage is brown. This is especially important when harvesting soft-neck garlic if you intend to braid it. Harvest is usually July through August depending on the variety and the climate.
Garlic bulbs should be carefully “lifted” from the soil to avoid damage. Using a garden fork, gently loosen the soil around the bulbs, then carefully pull them out of the soil. Try not to damage the paper coverings which protect the cloves.
Garlic must be cured before you can store and use it. Cure it by hanging it in a cool, dark place that is not humid like a basement. Curing will take about two weeks. Your garlic is ready when the wrappers are dry like paper and the roots are dry. Brush off excess soil, but do not clean completely until you are ready to use the cloves.
Be sure to save your biggest and best cloves to plant for next year’s crop!
After you have cured your garlic, cut off the roots and the stems. If you are storing soft-neck garlic, you may want to leave the foliage so that you can braid it and hang your bulbs. Alternatively, you can store your bulbs in baskets or hanging in mesh bags. Storage should be in a cool, dry place that is 50°F to 60°F. Do not store your garlic in your refrigerator which is too cold.
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© 2014 Caren White
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