The Basics of Growing Garlic

October through December, depending on your climate, is the time of year to plant garlic.  The cloves are tucked into their soil beds for the winter and are able to establish their root system early in their growth process. Their green shoots will appear in early spring, or earlier if you live somewhere with mild winters. Garlic bulbs are harvested in summer, when some of the leaves have turned brown, but 5 or 6 green leaves remain. Finding seed garlic from a source near you is to your advantage, as garlic acclimates to its surroundings, but experimenting with different varieties of garlic is fun and the only way you'll know what works in your particular situation! 

Garlic is highly adaptable and can be grown almost anywhere in North America, although ideal soil and climate do give the garlic grower an advantage.

There are two subspecies of garlic:  hardneck (ophio) and softneck. Most hardneck varieties require a cold winter to produce bulbs of good size and quality. Hardneck garlics are generally characterized by a single circle of cloves surrounding a woody stalk and have between 4 and 10 easy-to-peel cloves, and intense flavor. They have a shorter storage life than softneck varieties. 

Softneck garlics do not need a cold winter to do well, and they can tolerate a wide range of climates and soils. Softneck bulbs can grow quite large and produce 8 to 40 cloves each, but do not have as intense flavor as hardneck garlics.

Garlic is a "survivor" and can grow in less than perfect soils, but planting it in fertile, well-drained garden soils will yield the largest, cleanest bulbs. Planting plump cloves from 2 - 2 1/2 inch bulbs will increase your probability of harvesting large bulbs.  Large bulbs of that size growers refer to as "seed garlic". To plant, bulbs are separated into individual cloves and cloves are planted with pointed ends up, scab (root) ends down. We recommend planting only medium and large size cloves. The small ones you can eat or use in your next culinary delight. Push the clove into the ground at a depth of about 3 inches (although this varies among growers due to climate), and cover with soil. We plant each clove six inches apart, in rows which are six inches apart. A moderately light mulch can be applied.

Once the garlic has sprouted it's green leaves it needs adequate moisture for maximum growth. It can be watered on the same schedule used for most leafy green vegetables.  We use drip tape for irrigation and place one row of drip tape between two rows of garlic.  Too much water in late spring, early summer, will increase the risk of diseases, molds, and stained bulb wrappers.  We usually stop irrigating two weeks before harvest. 

Garlic should be harvested when 5 or 6 green leaves still remain. Each of these leaves provides a wrapper for the bulb, and if the leaves have all turned brown and dry, the bulb will not have it's protective layers which help to maintain integrity in storage.  The bulb should be carefully removed from the ground, keeping the stalk intact. We tie our garlic with string and hang it to dry, in bunches of six.  It needs to dry in a place with good airflow and out of direct sun. When all the leaves are crisp and brown, they can be cut off, leaving a neck of at least one inch. The roots are then trimmed and soil can be carefully removed. 

When storing garlic, keep it in a well ventilated space and open container. Closed air tight containers will make your garlic spoil faster. A cool, dry, and dark place is ideal. Store it out of any direct sunlight to inhibit any growth.   

Soft neck garlic bulbs will survive longer than your hard neck garlics. Don’t store it together. Hard necks will tend to spoil faster within 4 months while the soft necks can survive up to 6-8 months. You don’t want your soft necks getting contaminated by the hard necks. This will allow you to have garlic on hand for eating year round and also have seed stock for the following years' planting.

This article provides you with just the very basics of growing garlic.  If you are interested in learning more about it, we highly recommend the book Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland. If you have questions about garlic, or want to purchase garlic for planting, or eating, feel free to call us or check our website.

Enjoy planting your next patch of garlic. - Karen

Chet and Karen Byler are certified organic garlic farmers on the beautiful, high-desert valley of Montrose County, Colorado.  Straw Hat Farm is a small, family-owned and operated farm that grows and sells many varieties of vegetables and produce, but specialize in organic, gourmet garlics.  The sell both table and seed garlic as well make garlic powder and granules. 

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Thanks for the read! I should be getting my garlic bulbs in the ground in the next week or 2. Hopefully I have better luck this year. Last year, I planted the bulbs and I got plenty of shoots. I went to pull the bulbs out and they were tiny, although I knew why. My 1st year garden location happened to fall under the canopy of trees. Rookie mistake…

I have always clipped off the seed heads when they appear on the theory that the energy not used for reproduction will be channeled to the bulbs.  What is your viewpoint?

I grew a lot of garlic this year and it was really easy.  I planted cloves from a few bulbs I got at the supermarket in a raised bed in late fall.   Several plants formed a second"bulb" higher up on the stalk; whatt’s going on with that?

Confirming the softnecks store longer?  I was just enjoying some of my first crop of garlic tonght in fact (so by no means an expert), but my local garlic farm which I sourced my seed garlic from advised me that the hardnecks are actually the longer keepers…?

Holy crap garden garlic is NOTHING like store bought.  First time I used it, was making V8, and threw in the usual amount, and a little more for good measure.  I ended up pulling over 1/2 of it back out.  That was some potent stuff!  This was our first crop, really looking forward to next year larger crop.
Don’t you want to let it grow for at least two seasons to get the largest bulbs?

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