How To Grow Really Great Garlic
Organically grown garlic from your own garden is plump, fresh, sticky with garlic juices, each clove so full of flavour! Store bought garlic has been bleached, is dry and stale tasting, and was grown in who-knows-what or how. Check into 'night soils', if you are brave enough. Ugh.
As with anything else, once you have tasted the real stuff, the home grown stuff, you will be forever spoiled and will never again buy that tasteless stuff from the grocers.
When to plant?
Garlic is planted between Mid- September and early November here on the west coast. If you live in a colder area with snows, you will want to plant just a bit before the hard frosts begin. Plant at the same time as you plant your tulips.
Prep Your Soil
Weed the bed. Garlic does not compete well for nutrients with weeds or grasses in the bed. For nice big bulbs, you will need to remove all the weeds. Pull the large ones and hoe down the smaller ones.
Feed the soil. Garlic is a surprisingly heavy feeder. Feeding your soil well right now is key for the biggest and best garlic.
Add lots of organic matter to the bed, something like fish compost, organic compost, or manure. My favourite is chicken as it has the most nitrogen and is not weedy, but use whatever manure you have access to, they are all great for feeding the soil.
I have pretty great soil as I amend each fall, but I still make sure to add lots of manure at planting time. Organic gardening is all about feeding the soil to feed the plants. So.. while I spend money each fall on manure or compost, that is really all I ever have to do. No additional feeding is required throughout the rest of the year.
Test and Amend… You may also want to do a soil test at this time to see if you need more nutrients added to the bed. Things like kelp, bonemeal, bloodmeal, organic all purpose fertilisers, rock phosphates, etc.. You need lots of nitrogen for the top growth and phosphorous for good bulb growth.
Loosen up the soil. If your garden bed is hard-packed, loosen the soil to make it soft and friable. You want to be able to push the cloves right into the fluffy soil with no effort, this will allow the roots to spread out nicely to go after those nutrients that you just added. Do not muck about in wet soil or you will compact it into concrete.
Do not rototill. Rototillers break down soil texture while destroying the beneficial fungi threads and micro-organisms in the soil … not to mention what it does to those poor earthworms that are working so hard to turn your garden into gold. Instead, use a broad fork or a garden fork to gently lift the soil. No need to turn it, just lift to loosen.
Break apart the bulbs into cloves. Plant only your fattest and biggest cloves, leaving the small ones for cooking. It is the size of the clove that determines the size of next year's bulbs, smaller cloves maker smaller bulbs.
Push the clove 2 inches deep into the loose soil, pointy side up. The tip of the garlic should be 1 to 1.5 inches below the soil’s surface. In cold winter areas, go an inch deeper and mulch with several inches of leaves or straw to insulate.
Space them 4 to 8 inches apart. The farmer guy plants his 7 inches apart, says that the closer they are together, the smaller the bulbs will be. Therefore, I also I plant mine 7 inches apart and make the rows 7 inches apart, too. I figure if it works for the professional growers, it should work for me, too.
To keep the rows nice and straight, I push the handle of the rake lightly into the soil to make an imprint, and keep my planting holes on that line.
Cover the garlic with soil or good compost. This is a great opportunity to add another layer of compost or manure, especially if you do not have great soil.
Label your garlic if you are growing several varieties.
If your garden bed is super dry, if you are having a hot and dry fall, slowly water the bed for a long time to give it a really good soak. I usually put the sprinkler on it for an hour or two. This year, we are having a very wet fall, so no watering is required. Just plant and walk away.
Begin watering in spring when the rains peter out, giving them an inch of water per week. I put my soaker hoses in while the garlic is still tiny, to make watering a breeze … just turn on for 20 minutes once a week.
Your garlic will start shooting up in late fall or sometime in the winter, depending on the weather. Do not worry, this is normal and they are tough as nails. All will be well.
Some folks will cover their beds for the winter, with straw or leaves, and remove it again in spring. I do not bother with this extra step. Here on the island, even our toughest winters do not faze the garlic.
If you are live in a colder gardening zone and are reading this, you will have planted your garlic already in September. Wait till the air is cold and the ground freezes just a bit, and then add a cover of leaves or straw, usually in mid to late October. Never mulch anything when the ground is still warm.
Harvest the scapes (the curly tops) in May.
Stop watering after harvesting the scapes! You do not want to lift bulbs that are wet with moisture as they will go mouldy and will not cure well.
Lift garlic in July, when half the leaves are golden brown.