Mountain Valley Garlic's Guide to Growing Garlic
Amend your soil with compost, aged manure, or cover crop. Blood and bone meal,
potash, gypsum, and sulfur are all common additions, but a soil test can tell you exactly what to add based on your soils needs. Garlic will grow best in well draining soil at a pH of 6.5-7. Consider raised beds for heavy soil.
For most US growers planting time is in October, about 3-4 weeks after your first frost.
Southern growers will need to vernalize their garlic before planting. To vernalize garlic: place garlic in a paper bag, into the fridge away from other fruits and veggies. Give 6-12 weeks of cold temperatures before planting. This process is to mimic the environment that hardneck garlic thrives in, it is not necessary in planting softneck garlics.
Plant spacing can vary depending on the size of bulbs desired.
For large bulbs, we space plants 6" apart, in rows 8-12" apart.
Medium bulbs you can plant in a 6" x 6" grid.
Small bulbs plant using 4" x 6" spacing.
Separate your bulbs into cloves on the day of, or day before, planting. Plant only medium and large cloves, discarding the smallest. Cloves may be sterilize with a 5 minute soak in 65%Isopropyl Alcohol or vodka. Do not rinse. Alternatively, an overnight soak with baking soda and kelp has been found to boost root growth.
After planting, we recommend applying a mulch to your garlic. This prevents winter heaving and can help to retain moisture during the summer. Options Include weed free straw or hay, leaves or other locally available organic mulches or heavy duty row cover (such as brand name Agribond) for just winter protection (row cover must be removed at first sign of emergence in Spring).
If you are able to, apply water to encourage early and even germination of your garlic cloves. Roots will develop throughout the Winter, preparing the plant to emerge in Spring.
Spring and Summer Care
Garlic will begin to emerge in early Spring as the temperatures begin to rise. When garlic reaches 3-4" you may begin to fertilize weekly. We use fish emulsion and worm tea, but use your favorite high nitrogen supplement or foliar feed. Garlic will reach a maximum of 10 leaves in cooler climates or 12 leaves in warmer climate, before the scape begins to form (for hardneck varieties)and bulbs begin to swell. Remove scape at 4-6" long for maximum bulb size, or allow it to lengthen and curl before harvesting for a tasty treat similar to a garlic flavored green bean or asparagus. Failing to remove the scape, or keeping it on for too long, will result in reduced bulb size. When the scapes begin to form stop fertilizing. Be sure to provide adequate water but avoid over watering.
When to Harvest
Once your garlic begins to bulb, it's immune system is no longer active. Watch it carefully for signs of disease.
Twisted, yellow, stunted, or otherwise "off" looking plants should be removed and thrown away (not composted).
As your bulb matures, the leaves will begin to dry down. This is an indication that your bulbs are nearing harvest.
On large plants we typically harvest when there are 6 green leaves left. A good rule of thumb is to harvest when 1/3 to 1/2 of the leaves have yellowed. When deciding if your bulbs are ready, dig a few bulbs up and note the size as well as the condition of the bulb wrappers. You will want at least 4-5 fully intact bulb wrappers. If you cut a bulb in half you should see fully developed cloves, and a slight pulling away from the stem.
Congratulations, it's harvest time!
Using a pitchfork, gently loosen the soil several inches away from the bulb*. Pull the bulb and brush soil from the roots. Bulbs are easily bruised right now, so take care. Immediately remove from the sun to a dry, shaded, well ventilated area with plenty of air flow. *On a commercial level, we use an undercutter bar to gently lift the garlic to the top of the soil. This a huge time saver and results in very few broken stems and pierced bulbs. If you are growing on a larger scale, make this your next upgrade.
How to Cure Garlic for Storage and Flavor
Fresh garlic is a juicy, tasty treat; but garlic gains much of it's flavor, complexity, and intensity during the curing process. After harvest, make bundles of 8-10 plants each.
Hang in a warm, shady, ventilated area for 4-10weeks (depending on temperatures andhumidity).
Alternatively you can lay them out in asingle layer on a table or drying rack.
Ensuregood air flow by running a fan (or multiple fansfor a large harvest).
The plants will dry and beginthe slow process of curing.
The curing process is finished when all moisturehas left the stem of the plant.
To test this, cut astem about 1" above the bulb and put the cut endto your dry lip.
If you feel any moisture, give themmore time to dry.
When your garlic is fully cured, trim the roots to1/4" and the stem to 1".
Pack into a well ventilatedcontainer and keep it cool, dark, and dry.
Withgood curing and storage your garlic should storefor at least 4-6 months.