Growing Garlic at Home
Growing garlic at home is a great way to ensure your own fresh supply. Garlic has long been an important ingredient in a number of recipes, and it has been increasing in popularity because of its recently touted health benefits. Growing garlic at home is not difficult and is a fun project for any home gardener.
There are dozens of varieties of garlic available through commercial plant and seed sellers. All vary in taste and bulb size, providing the opportunity for home gardeners to experiment and discover their favorites. Many retail suppliers can help you select the varieties best suited to your geographical region.
Garlic varieties are also categorized by harvest time – early (spring), mid-season (summer), and late season (late summer/early fall). By trying varieties with different harvest times, you can ensure a steady supply of fresh garlic all season.
Growing garlic is fairly easy, but with any crop, it is a good idea to prepare the planting area for optimal growth. Garlic requires full-sun exposure, 8-12 hours of sun exposure daily. Garlic plants thrive in areas where soil is well drained and fertile. It may be planted directly in the ground or in containers, making it an ideal addition to smaller garden spaces.
Garlic is not generally sold as seed, but rather in clove or bulb form. The cloves are the individual pieces of the garlic bulb that are easily broken off. If you purchase your garlic by the bulb, you’ll need to start by separating the cloves. Ideally, the garlic cloves should be planted with 6-8 inches of space on all sides. If you are planting multiple rows, consider placing the rows about 12-18 inches apart for ease of access when tending your garlic crop.
To plant the garlic, start by making a small 2 inch hole in the soil. Place the garlic clove pointed side up into the hole. Pat the soil around the clove. It should be covered by soil. Water the garlic once it is planted.
Garlic is generally planted in the fall (October) though they may be planted in spring, as early as the soil thaws the better. (If you’re growing in containers, wait until spring to plant.) Therefore, it’s necessary to apply a layer of mulch over the garlic. A 4-inch thick layer of mulch should provide sufficient protection and ensure optimal growth in the spring.
In the spring, the garlic will begin to produce leaves. Once you see leaves beginning to emerge, it is a good time to fertilize the crop. A basic 20-20-20 fertilizer will work well, or for long term feeding, you may use a slow release granular fertilizer. If you would like to grow your garlic without any chemical fertilizers, you may do that as well. It is not necessary to fertilize.
Later in the spring the garlic will produce long shoots that will have a flower stalk. The stalks should be removed at the ground level and when they are still small and tender.
Your garlic plants will continue to grow new leaves as spring progresses into summer. Harvest time will depend on the variety of garlic you have chosen to grow. Generally, you will harvest your garlic bulbs when the leaves turn brown (July-August). At this time, you may dig up your bulbs. Be sure to clean off any large clumps of soil that are clinging to your bulbs. You’ll need to leave your bulbs in a dry area, away from rain exposure for 2-3 weeks to dry out.
Store your garlic bulbs whole in a dry area with lots of air circulation. They should last several months. Refrigeration of garlic is not necessary and may cause your garlic to rot.
Over all, garlic is an easy crop to grow. It is a fun project that requires little garden space, and the crop is easy to store. Experiment with early and late season varieties to ensure you have garlic to last all year.