Growing Garlic is Easy, Rewarding & Fun!
Ideally the area you have for garlic has been growing a cover crop the summer before you plant the garlic. A cover crop (or green manure) is any planting that is to be turned into the soil to increase organic matter and fertility. We use buckwheat before garlic. It will deter weed growth and add lots of organic matter to the soil. Planted early enough in the spring it is possible to get two crops out of one seeding. Simply let the buckwheat go to seed and mature fully and knock it down and work it lightly into the soil. In a week or so it will sprout up again with a very thick crop. Start to turn the buckwheat in again 2 to 3 weeks before you intend to plant your garlic. It will take a few tillings to break it down into nice fluffy soil. This is a good time to add any amendments you plan on: compost; manure; fertilizer etc.
So now you’re ready to plant. Even if you haven’t done the buckwheat part, go ahead and plant and next spring you can do the buckwheat. Break up the bulbs into individual cloves. (of course if you bought our bags of seed garlic, it’s already done for you) Push the clove 2 to 3 inches into the soil with the pointy side up, about the depth of your finger. Pat the top and on to the next.
When you’re finished planting, spread some more compost on top of the bed. Then mulch with straw. Fluff straw up and make it a good 6 inches thick. This will keep the soil from freezing and thawing over the winter and early spring.
Now sit back and wait. In the spring the garlic will pop up right through the straw. Garlic does not compete well with weeds, so leave the straw there. It will help control the weeds as well as keep the garlic clean. When the garlic is 3 to 4 inches tall, fertilize with a foliar spray or side dress with a high N fertilizer. Fish emulsion or kelp works well.
In late June to early July the scapes will start to appear. This is the flower of the hard neck garlic.
They can be clipped and used as you would a scallion.
Clipping the scapes puts more energy into the bulb and generally increases the size.
By late July you will notice the plant start yellowing from the bottom up. You may want to pull the mulch back at this point to let the soil dry out a bit. When half the leaves are yellow and dried it’s time to harvest. Don’t let the garlic go to long or it will open up and not store as well. We like to have all the garlic harvested by the first week in August.
A few of things to be careful of when harvesting: fresh garlic will bruise like an apple, handle carefully, and garlic can get sunburnt. Harvest early in the morning or towards sunset. Keep the harvested garlic in the shade till dry. Lay the garlic out in a single layer in an air location and trim the roots. When the tops are totally brown and dry, the garlic can be bunched and hung to store. Now is the time to save your seed for later in the fall. Pull out the best looking garlics for your seed stock. Of course you’ll want to eat some of it too, to make sure you like the flavor.