5 Easy Steps To Growing Great Garlic
Thinking of growing your own garlic? You will be so glad you did! Fresh, homegrown garlic is a hundred times better than anything you can get at the shops. Once you’ve had fresh, sticky, yummy, homegrown, you’ll never go back to that dried out stuff from the grocers.
Garlic is planted anywhere from mid September to mid November here in our area on the pacific north west coast of Canada. Elsewhere, you want to plant it 4 to 6 weeks before your first good hard frost.
I plant mine in mid-October but have also planted well into November, and even early December with great results. You never want to muck about in wet soil, so if you have had some rain lately, is best to wait a bit for a drier day.
1. Prep your soil now - Garlic is going to be in the ground for almost 9 months, relying on that soil for all of its nutrients to grow into nice, big bulbs so this is the most important part of garlic growing.
Weed - if you have any weeds on top of your soil, pull them out or run your hoe through it quickly to uproot them. Garlic will not compete well for nutrients with the weeds, will be small bulbs. Do not turn your soil if you have weedy soil or you will have even more weeds in spring! Turning the soil brings weed seeds up to the surface to germinate in the warmth of the sun, creating an even bigger mess.
Feed the soil - Garlic is a heavy feeder!
For us no diggers that feed our beds annually, we just top dress as per usual. Layer a half inch to an inch or so of great manure or compost onto the garlic bed. Let it sit till you are ready to plant.
If you do not yet have that great soil, are still working on it, add even more organic matter. Add shredded leaves or dry grass to your manure, that will help to make your garden soil even more friable as the earthworms and soil bacteria work on breaking it down. This is a great practice in general for poor soil, but in this case, will help grow even better garlic.
You can also add bonemeal for good root and bulb growth. Just mix in with your manure and rake out over the soil’s surface. Alternately, toss a tablespoon into each planting hole, right under the garlic clove.
In fall, one can buy a blood and bone meal mix, recommended for growing great tulips and other bulbs, this also works great for feeding garlic bulbs with nitrogen and phosphorous.
For those of you who have inherited compacted soil that has not been fed, loosen up the top 4 to 6 inches of soil so that is nice, loose, and friable. You should be able to easily stick your finger into the soil without meeting with much resistance. Add a few bags of great compost or manure on top of the soil and then gently turn it in with a garden fork, thus feeding your soil and loosening it at the same time. Next year, no digging needed, just top dress as above.
If you want to go straight to no dig this year but have compacted soil, add a good 2 to 4 inches of rich garden soil or compost on top of your bed and plant straight into that. Each year your soil will become better and better as you continue to top dress and the soil life begins to loosen it up for you.
2. Source out great, organic, garlic (ideally from a local supplier)
Hopefully if you are in the area, you are buying from me, wink, wink ; )
Seriously though, try to get your garlic from a farmer’s market, a local grower, a local nursery that sells it in bulk, or mail order from a great source. If none of those is an option and you must buy the mesh bags of garlic, squeeze the bulbs to make sure they are fresh, plump, and firm. If they are soft, do not buy them, they will be a waste of both your time and money.
Do not save your smallest bulbs for planting, use those for canning, cooking, or dehydrate into powder.. You want to save/buy the biggest bulbs for planting, as they produce nice big bulbs next year. You always plant the best of anything you are growing to keep the strain strong. If you plant small and weak, you get small and weak.
3. Crack open the bulbs - Ideally, do this at planting time, not earlier, for the freshest, plumpest cloves. To crack them open, grab the stem of the garlic and give it a crank. That should get the bulb opened up, then just separate the cloves. Depending on the variety, you can have anywhere from 3 to 15 cloves per bulb! Hardnecks, the super hardy garlic, will generally have 5 to 8.
*Don’t forget to label the varieties if you have several, so that you know which ones did best for you, which kind you want to grow again next year.
4. Plant the cloves - Push the cloves 2 inches deep into the nice loose soil and space them 6 to 8 inches apart. Your soil should be nice and loose so that you can simply push the clove in with your fingers. The pointy end should be at the top, the cap, or root end, at the bottom.
I plant mine 7 inches apart as that is what farmer guy does. I figure if it is good enough for the pros, it is good enough for me. I also plant in a cross hatch pattern with the rows 7 inches apart, as well.
This is when you can add bonemeal into the planting hole, if you wish. Use a bulb dibber to make the hole, drop in a bit of bonemeal, pop in the clove with the pointy end up.
I leave the punch holes uncovered until I am all done planting, that way I can keep track of where I planted to keep my rows and holes 7 inches apart. Then I use a rake to even out the soil, thus burying the cloves.
5. Water, if needed - Some years we have been so dry at planting time that I have had to run the sprinkler for several hours to water in the garlic bed really well. This year, this does not seem to be an issue here on the island, as we have been getting a wee bit of rain now and again, so just a regular watering is fine, or wait for the fall rains to come.
That is it - Walk away and do not worry about your garlic again until spring. If we have a warm spell in December or January, you may see your garlic sprouting already. Not to worry, all will be well, leave it be. Garlic is hardy and knows what it is doing : )
I will post part two in late spring, all about watering and harvesting : )
Plump juicy garlic cloves, so much better than store bought!