Growing Garlic

Last year I had mentioned that I would be growing garlic for the first time, and I promised to document the experience in hopes that others could learn from my success or failure. Overall, I’d say the effort was successful, though it definitely has room for improvement. I’ll give you a step-by-step overview of my methods and then share the adjustments I intend to make in hopes of improving future crops.

Step 1 – Soil Prep
The first step was to ensure that my soil had sufficient nutrients for the nine-month growing season required for garlic production. I had filled the raised bed with Miracle Grow’s raised bed soil the previous spring so it did not required additional amendments to achieve good drainage but the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels (along with other nutrients, I’m sure) were depleted from the previous season’s growth. So, mid-October I worked bone meal, blood meal and earth worm castings into the loose soil.

Step 2 – Planting
I tried to align my process with notable dates to make it easy to remember my garlic timeline — planting was the week of Halloween. After receiving my Organic Silver White garlic bulbs from Territorial Seed Co. I gently broke them apart and planted the individual cloves roughly six inches apart with the tip up, as shown above. They were then covered with about one inch of soil.

Step 3 – Overwintering
I used raked leaves from the maple tree in our front yard to “mulch” my garlic. We have mild winters but I wanted to add a little extra insulation to ensure my garlic would make it through. Garlic does require a period of dormancy (temperatures below 40F for an extended period of time are generally optimal) but they shouldn’t freeze and thaw repeatedly, this reduces viability. Straw, wood chips and lawn clippings are all good choices too.

Step 4 – Composting
The week of Valentine’s Day I added chicken manure based compost in between the rows, on top of the leaf litter mulch, and topped everything off with a fresh one-inch layer of topsoil. This trapped in both the added compost and the leaf mulch which continued to decompose throughout the spring, adding extra nutrients and microbes to the soil.

Step 5 – Growing
All 35 cloves germinated and produced lush greens that continued to fill out as spring progressed. The garlic was treated like all the other veggies during this time, watered regularly but not drenched to avoid rot. As leaves continued to grow, the stem thickened to the diameter of my thumb — roughly 3/4 of an inch.

Step 6 – Harvesting
Garlic requires a great deal of patience. More, in fact, than I seemingly possess. I got impatient and pulled one bulb around Mother’s Day. Oops…It was tiny so I panicked and got online to look at the description offered by Territorial’s team. Sure enough, they are a late season variety (I obviously forgot this detail) and shouldn’t even be checked for bulbs until the end of June. So I waited…and waited…and waited some more…very impatiently. Finally, the last week in June I noticed that the outer leaves were browning so I pulled the dirt aside from one row and there they were, my bulbs. Harvest time was the week of July 4th — Beautiful!

Step 7 – Curing
It is said that garlic can be cured with or without the dirty outer layer. I left mine on, no rhyme or reason, just because. I laid them out in the sun to dry and then brushed off the majority of the dirt, clipped the roots off and braided the bulbs together for hanging. I then hung them in a cool dark place, root side down, to continue the curing process. A root cellar with temperatures around 50F is optimal but that isn’t an option for me so 60-65F in my pantry will have to do.

Step 8 – Preserving
We will be using roughly half of our garlic to make dehydrated minced garlic and garlic powder stocks. The rest will be used fresh, thanks to garlic’s well-known storage qualities. That being said, garlic can also be pickled, as whole cloves, slices or minced. Don’t be afraid to be creative with your preservation process!

Room for Improvement
Two things that I will make a conscious effort to adjust next year are sunlight and the size of cloves planted. The bed where I grew my garlic this year gets no direct sunlight during the winter months and very little sunlight through springtime; 3-5 hours at best until May. Additionally, it is highly advised that only the largest cloves be planted, not all of the cloves in the bulb. I did not plant the innermost (smallest) cloves but most likely used some mid-sized cloves that were too small to support optimal growth. I will avoid this in the future.

I hope that this information proves helpful for anyone interested in embarking on their first garlic journey. To any veteran gardeners who may have suggestions for improvements, please share! Also, recommendations for favored varieties are more than welcome. Cheers, friends!

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