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It’s been a dream of ours for a while now to start growing garlic, both for ourselves and for some farm income. Garlic is an easy-to-grow herb that is so versatile, I use it in nearly every meal. And the resale value is excellent! So growing garlic is a no-brainer for our farm.
As a disclaimer: I’m not a garlic expert – yet. I’ve done a TON of research about garlic, but this is our first time actually planting it. So today, I’m just compiling all of the information that I’ve gathered on garlic. I’ll update later when I have more experience.
Why should you try growing garlic?
Garlic tastes delicious on almost everything. It can also be very profitable. Seed garlic can fetch as much as $17/lb. Culinary garlic, on the other hand, goes for much less, often for about $5/lb. Either way, it can be a good source of homestead income.
Garlic is a wonderful herb. It has many health benefits, including:
- Boosting your immune system
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reducing severity of colds and flu
- Contains high amounts of antioxidants
- Is a great anti-inflammatory
If you use garlic frequently, or want to experiment with using garlic medicinally, you should definitely try growing garlic.
Preparing the soil
The soil that you are planting garlic in needs to be light and fluffy, yet nutrient-rich. If you are growing garlic in raised beds, you should consider using equal parts of native soil, compost, and perlite. This is a near-perfect combination of growing material for garlic.
If you have poor soil, I suggest adding lots of organic matter. Clay soils can really benefit from the addition of gypsum. It helps break up the clay and adds more tilth to the soil.
Take all your grass clippings and fall leaves, and till them into the area you are going to plant the garlic. Many people recommend a generous addition of potash. Potash adds a lot of potassium into the soil quickly, which helps in root development.
You should also use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. Garlic doesn’t need a lot of nitrogen at the beginning of its growth, it needs it later in the spring. So another option is to not use a lot of nitrogen until spring.
The pH of the soil where you are planting your garlic should be between 6.0 and 7.5. If your soil is outside of those pH ranges, you need to amend it to ensure proper growth. If your soil is below 6.0, you can add wood ash or lime to bring the soil alkalinity back up. For soil that is above 7.5, consider using elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate. You can also add lots of organic compost, and use pine needles as mulch.
If you still have a few months before you plant your garlic, you can use cover crops to improve your soil. Peas and other legumes help put nitrogen back into the soil. Mustard is a natural fumigant, and can ward off bad bugs and fungal infections in the soil.
Choosing your garlic seeds
There are many different types of garlic, and many places to get that garlic. Ordering online is a common practice nowadays, but getting some from a local source may be even better. Garlic that was grown in your local conditions are likely to do better in your garden.
“Seed garlic” is the best for planting. Seed cloves are roughly 2 inches around. Using seed garlic is the best way to ensure that your garlic will yield a good harvest, with big bulbs.
Make sure that the garlic you are going to plant have not been refrigerated, and are free of any discolorations, fungus, mold, or insect damage. This is very important so as to not contaminate the ground.
Some areas have restrictions on receiving garlic that was grown outside of the area. In order to legally grow garlic in these areas, it has to be certified by the state and deemed safe. I happen to live in one of these areas. Because we grow a lot of potatoes and onions here, Idaho has put restrictions on these types of root crops due to white rot. It’s impossible for me to get seed garlic shipped to me, unless it’s grown in Idaho and is certified.
Planting your garlic
Garlic needs to be planted in the fall, and left to grow until harvest in early Summer. This ensures proper “vernalization” of the cloves. Vernalization is the process of giving the garlic a period of cold temperatures, to encourage the seed to divide and grow into the separate cloves that form a head of garlic. Most garlics need this cold period to grow properly.
In this area, Zone 7a, garlic is typically planted right before Halloween. Wherever you live, you should plant your garlic when your soil temperature is about 55-65 degrees. This gives the garlic a little bit of time to form roots before the ground freezes solid. We planted ours November 8th, and I’m hoping we didn’t wait too long.
Plant your garlic cloves 3-4″ deep, with the pointy side up (root side down). The cloves should be spaced 4-6″ apart, in a grid pattern. I suggest 3 foot rows, with a 1 1/2 foot walkway in between the rows. This will allow you room to weed your garlic without damaging them.
After putting the garlic in, backfill in the holes, and press or step down on them. This helps to keep the garlic cloves in place. After planting, many people mulch with grass clippings and shredded leaves. Mulch suppresses weeds, holds in moisture, and helps to avoid the cloves “heaving” out of the soil during freezes and thaws.
If you are using weed barrier, it’s easiest to burn holes in the fabric to dig the holes. A “dibbler” is helpful to create the holes. This year, we literally dug our holes individually, by hand. Boy, did it do a number to my hands!
Don’t plant garlic in the same spot year after year. In fact, garlic should be put on a 3-year rotation. On the 2 other years that you don’t plant garlic in one area, use a cover crop to replenish nutrients and improve the soil.
Once you have all the garlic in the ground, give it a good watering. Then just let it sit through winter!
Caring for your spring garlic
In the spring, your garlic will be one of the first crops to start growing. It will grow tall stalks pretty early. If you want, you can harvest some garlic early as green garlic. These bulbs will be small, and similar to green onions. But they are wonderful in stir-fry!
If you are growing hardneck garlic, you will get scapes that you can harvest in late spring. Scapes are the long stalks that grow from your garlic bulbs. These will curl around themselves. When the scapes have made a complete curl, you can harvest them. Scapes are delicious used in pesto, stir-fry, or a grilled side dish. You can even dehydrate, grind, and add to a good garlic salt.
Removing your garlic scapes will yield better results in your garlic. The heads will be bigger if the scapes are regularly removed.
In springtime, your garlic will really benefit from a good nitrogen fertilizer. Blood meal is great, as is a generous helping of compost.
Here is a spring update on our first crop of garlic.
Harvesting your garlic
Garlic is ready for harvesting when the bottom 2 leaves have died, and the 3rd leaf is starting to die. You will still have plenty of green leaves, but this dying near the base tells you that it’s time.
In our area, garlic is ready for harvest in July. So keep this in mind if you’re wanting to plant garlic in the precious space in your garden beds. That bed will be tied up until well past the time you would normally start a garden.
For hardneck varieties of garlic, you may just be able to pull the garlic head out of the ground by the stalk. However, with softnecks, this can break the stalk and damage the bulb. Consider using a pitch fork or spade to gently remove the garlic bulbs.
Harvest your garlic after a few days without rain or watering. This will help ensure the garlic is dry when harvested. Once it’s removed from the soil, the garlic needs to immediately be placed somewhere to dry. It needs to be kept out of direct sunlight, and with lots of ventilation.
Some people put their garlic on wire shelves in a shed or barn, with a couple of fans blowing. This helps the garlic cure properly.
Curing your garlic
Curing is the only way to make sure that your garlic will store for longer periods of time. Properly cured garlic can sit at a cool room temperature for months, even all the way up until the next spring.
After harvesting your garlic, resist the urge to wash the bulbs off. Even if there is lots of dirt on it, adding excess moisture can cause mold on your garlic. It’s best to just brush with a toothbrush or something similar, to gently remove the dirt.
Leave the stalks on the garlic. For softnecks, these stalks can be braided for an eye-pleasing storage display. With hardnecks, the stalk is usually cut within about an inch of the bulb after curing is complete.
Putting the garlic on wire shelves, with good ventilation, is best during the curing process. Once a day for a week or so, turn each plant over.
Once the outer layer of skin is fully dry, you can bundle your garlic in groups of 6 to 8, and hang them for further curing. If you are using fans, these should still be running at this time.
Your garlic is cured once the bulb is fully dried, and the stalks are completely dead and brown. The curing process usually takes about 3-6 weeks.
Storing your garlic
Whenever possible, store your garlic heads whole. Avoid peeling the heads or cloves until you are ready to use them.
The ideal temperature for storing garlic is 56-58 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep them out of direct sunlight, and protect from extra heat. A cool, dry basement is a good place, as is a root cellar. Don’t keep your garlic in the fridge!
If you have softneck garlic, a garlic braid is the perfect way to store them. Hang them in an area that is cool and dry. For hardnecks, it’s easier to store them in garlic netting.
Are you ready to try growing garlic?
So, are you going to try your hand at growing garlic? It’s an easy, economical plant that the majority of the people use. If you’re like me, and use a lot of garlic, you should definitely try growing your own. Will you try it?
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