How to Grow Garlic
Here in the northeast we grow hardneck garlic – one of the easiest to grow plants in our garden. We plant in the fall, mulch deeply, and except for harvesting the scapes, we pretty much ignore it. Generally by the end of July or early August we have large, beautiful heads of garlic to harvest and cure.
To grow garlic, plant it in the late fall, sometime after the first frost. Don’t wait too long or the garlic will be stressed by the cold temperatures.
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When I harvest garlic in the summer, I save the best and largest heads for planting in the fall. You can also purchase it here. To plant, break your heads of garlic into cloves. Each clove will grow one head of garlic. Plant in loose soil, which contains lots of organic matter. Lasagna gardening is a fantastic way to increase organic matter.
Plant every 6″ with the blunt end down. Plant the next row 6″ away, but stagger them like you do cookies on a cookie sheet, and then cover with about 2″ of soil.
Add mulch loosely but thickly – about 6″. I use hay – here’s why – but straw is fine, too. Mulch protects the garlic over the winter, and keeps moisture in and weeds down in the spring. Garlic really doesn’t like competition from weeds. In the spring, you do not have to remove the mulch unless you’ve added more than 6″.
During the summer, cut back the flower bulbs that begin to form – the scapes – when they begin to curl. If left, these will take the plants energy just when you want it to be going to bulb formation.
How to Harvest Garlic
Knowing when to harvest garlic will make a difference in how well your garlic stores for the winter. Harvest it too early and the bulbs will be immature and will not store well. Harvest it too late and the bulbs may already begin to separate, and again, will not store well.
Still, knowing when to harvest garlic is fairly simple. The leaves on the garlic will begin to turn brown; the outer leaves turn first. Wait until the outer 5 or 6 leaves are brown and you’re good to go. Be sure not to wait until all the leaves have turned.
If your weather has been dry and you have been watering, discontinue watering when the first leaves begin to brown.
In our lasagna garden, the soil is light, and to harvest, I simply grab a hold of the garlic stalk just above ground and pull. The garlic is easily removed.
In more compact soil, carefully dig with a garden fork to remove the bulbs. Pulling on the stalk may result in the stalk breaking and the garlic remaining in the ground. This is one of the great advantages of no-dig lasagna gardening.
How to Cure Garlic
Once harvested, you will need to cure your garlic so that it will store without rotting. Garlic is best cured in dry weather, but that is, of course, out of your control. It is essential to cure it in a location where air can circulate around all sides of the bulbs, especially if the weather is damp.
To cure garlic, it may be tied and hung to dry, or laid out on a rack to dry. The garlic needs to be kept out of both sun and rain during this time. After drying for about two weeks, the covering of the bulbs will become paper-like.
The stems can be now be cut above the bulb. Any remaining dirt should be brushed off of both the bulb and the roots. The roots should be trimmed to a half inch or so.
The bulbs may be placed in paper or mesh bags and stored in a cool, dry area. Be sure to save the best bulbs for replanting in the fall.
To learn how to build a garden that builds healthy soil, be sure to check out my eBook The Art of Gardening: Building Your Soil.
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