When To Plant
Garlic is best planted between mid September and end October here on the island.
The general rule for garlic planting anywhere is to plant it up in fall, about 3 to 6 weeks before ground freeze up so that it has time to set roots but does not start to grow above ground.
However, here on the island, is not an issue if you see green sprouts in early winter!
I generally plant mine in mid October but heard that we are supposed to have a stormy week-end, with lots or rain, gloom and cooler temps. The weather has already been cooler and wetter this month than usual and so I am thinking that winter may perhaps come earlier this year? Plus, the Farmer's Almanac seems to agree ; )
Of course, who know, it may just be a big trick and October may end up being spectacular. Either way, my garlic will thrive.
Garlic needs a neutral pH, and good nutrient rich loam in order to size up well.
It will grow in any kind of soil, whether sandy, loamy or clay. Sandy or loamy soil means your bulbs will be cleaner when picking.
Soil must be well draining though. Here on the coast where our winters are very wet and rainy, is best to grow the garlic in raised beds or to create 'hills' for the garlic to grow in.
If you have not amended your garden soil earlier, you can still do it while planting, Mix in some great compost, alfalfa, and bone meal or fish bone meal.
My garlic this year went into a brand new bed that is 5' wide, 24' long and 12" deep.
The soil is a lovely, newly purchased, garden mix, with compost already added, from my favourite local supplier. Therefore, no extra amending is needed this year.
As we built the new bed on a grassy area, we put a thick layer of packing paper (from our recent move) at the bottom of the bed before adding the soil. This will make sure that the grass and/or weeds does not grow through the bed. You can also use cardboard or newsprint (4 sheets thick).
Cracking your garlic
When you are ready to plant, start cracking your garlic, meaning to break the bulbs open to get the cloves. Do this no more than 24 hours ahead of time or they will dry out and not root in well, if at all.
I crack mine as I plant, one variety at a time.
It is okay if the skins come off as you crack them but you want to make sure you still have the 'cap' on the end of the clove. This is where the clove was attached to the stem of the bulb and is where the new roots will grow from. If your clove is not intact, do not plant it but use the clove for cooking instead .
The difference between hard neck and soft neck (artichoke) garlic is the stem (neck!) or middle part.
The one on the left is the kind that we are used to seeing here in Canada. That is a hard neck garlic after the cloves have been cracked off. The cloves are clustered around this main stem. Discard the stem after cracking.
The one on the right is the centre of the soft neck garlic. Softnecks are the ones that are easily braided in summer for storage. Hard necks can also be braided but softies are so much easier to do.
Do not plant this variety in colder areas, anything less than a Zone 5.
This is my first time planting the soft necks. From what I understand, the centres are not usually planted for bulb production, but can be planted up for the bulbils. I decided to plant them all anyway and see what happens, cuz you all know I like to trial new things. Live, trial, and learn. Next year I will know a whole lot more about soft neck garlic growing!
Planting your garlic
I take my hoe or rake and push the handle into the soil to make a straight line to trench up. I then use the hoe end to form a wee trench to plant in, loosening the soil to 3 or 4 inches deep. The garlic should be planted with the root end down and the tip about 2 inches below the soil level. I simply push each clove in to the loose soil.
As I did not have to amend my soil this year, I only needed two tools at planting time.
A rake to even out the soil in the bed ( from all the doggie foot prints, mostly)
And a 3 pronged garden hoe (cultivator) to make the trenches and loosen the soil.
I marked out 8 inches on the handle of the hoe with a sharpie to make the planting simple.
Here you can see where I have pushed the cloves into the ground in a zig zig patter
7 inches apart on all sides.
7 inches apart on all sides.
Plant your cloves anywhere from 4 to 8 inches apart.
If you go with 4 inches apart, you will have more bulbs to harvest, but they will be smaller at harvest time. Plant the cloves 4" in the rows, with the rows 6" apart.
I planted mine 7 inches apart from each other, with the rows also spaced 7 inches apart.
This bed is finished, about 350 cloves in this bed.
Am now waiting on hubby to build me one more long bed for the rest of the garlic ; )
For now, I just cover up the cloves gently with the rake ... and that is about all till harvest.
If you are in a colder area, you can mulch your beds with 4 to 6 inches of straw or leaves, etc...
In our area, mulching is not recommended.
You might be wondering about the wee little terra cotta pots in the beds...
Both of my English Mastiff pups like to pull out the plastic tags from pots and garden beds, leaving me scratching my head and wondering who is who.... (this is the current situation that I am having with my hot peppers this year!)
Therefore, I though I had best double tag the varieties, just in case... So, this year the names are both on the plastic label tags but also on the wee pots. Hoping that the pots are still there, if the tags were to somehow disappear.
Watering the garlic
If it is dry when you plant, water in your garden every second week or so, till the rains, or snows, come.
In spring, start watering again until the end of June-ish. Once you start to see any yellowing or browning on your foliage, stop watering, usually two to three weeks after you harvest your scapes.
Scapes are the curly tops of your hard neck garlic. They form in June and should be removed for larger bulbs of garlic.
Luckily, they are also delicious to eat! I lightly saute or roast them with some sea salt and olive oil. Yummers!
Harvesting your garlic
This is the tough part, how to know when they are ready to pick. If you pick too early, they will not have sized up yet, if you pick too late, they will have separated from the stem ... and will not cure or store well. (Use those ones for cooking)
You can gently push the soil from the tops of the bulbs and feel the bumps (cloves) on the tops of the garlic. When they are a good size, you can start to harvest your garlic. The leaves, too, will tell you when they are ready. Pick when the bottom two or three leaves are yellowing/browning. This will be around mid to late July.
Gently lift and loosen the garlic from the side with a shovel or a garden fork, then pull out.
If you have heavy soil, do not simply pull up your garlic, or you will pull the stem right out of the bulb.
Curing your garlic
Do not leave in the garden beds to cure or they will cook or get sun burnt.
Place them in an airy yet shady area to cure for two to six weeks. If you do not have good air flow or breezes going thru your curing area, use fans to circulate the air.
I lay mine out, well spread out, on a table in the carport or potting shed. You can also bundle them in bunches of about 6 bulbs per bundle, and hang to dry.
Leave the roots and stems on your garlic as they cure.
Once they are dry and papery, trim the roots and the tops from the garlic, and then brush the dirt off the skins ( this is super easy if you wear a pair of garden gloves with the rubber on the palm).
You well cured garlic should store from 6 to 10 months, depending on the variety.