Growing Information

Want to know how to grow garlic? Here is how we do it...

Disclaimer: We are located in hardiness zone 4b/5a, at around 3400' elevation and average precipitation of around 13 - 15" per year. The following works for us, but may not work for you, due to the many variables involved in climate, soils, etc. 

Location: Choose a site that gets plenty of sun and where there is good drainage and loose, deep, well-drained soil.

Soil Preparation: Our soil is very sandy, so we add chopped straw and compost in order to enrich the soil and build a better soil structure. This should be done at least a month or so before planting, in order to give the straw and compost a chance to mellow. We have found that using raised beds works best. We have been on a two year crop rotation, which allows time for the soil to recover and also helps to reduce the chance of pests and disease. We plant green manure and cover crops after harvest in order to rebuild the soil.

Popping cloves: As planting time approaches, each garlic bulb must be “popped”, breaking apart the individual cloves. Care should be taken to keep the skin on the cloves intact and not to harm the basal plate on the bottom of each clove where the roots emerge.  Save the larger cloves for planting and the smaller cloves for eating. This is a great social activity, so invite your friends!

Planting: We try to plant during the first 2 weeks of October. We plant in 42" wide raised beds, each with 6 rows spaced about 6” apart, with cloves spaced about 8” apart within each row. We plant cloves about 4” deep and then loosely cover with soil. When planting, make sure the pointed end of each clove points up.

Mulching: After planting, we mulch with about 4 - 6” of wheat straw. This provides the benefit of easing the heaving of the freeze/thaw cycles during the winter and also conserves moisture during the spring and summer. We usually leave the mulch on, but if it is an exceptionally wet spring or early summer, we may pull some off in order to let the ground dry some. Depending on how early the winter arrives, we do get wheat sprouts. Hopefully, most will sprout and then be winter-killed, but any that survive and sprout in the spring can usually be uprooted by lifting and shaking the straw, which will let air get to the sprout roots, causing them to dry out and die.

Fertilizing: Once the garlic emerges and begins growing vigorously, we side dress with compost on top of the straw. The spring rains will then make a compost tea which drips thru the straw. We also foliar feed 2 – 3 times with seaweed based mixture. Do not fertilize once the bulbs are starting to form, since you want the plant to put its energy into the bulb, instead of the foliage.

Watering: We live in a dry climate, so the straw mulch really conserves moisture. We water when the soil starts to dry out. Stop watering a few weeks before harvest so that the soil and bulb wrappers have a chance to dry.

Harvesting Scapes: We pick the scapes after they make a full curl so that the energy is channeled into making a larger bulb, instead of generating seed bulbiles. Don't forget to saute up the scapes or make garlic scape pesto!

Harvesting Garlic: We have found that harvesting does not necessarily follow the "rules" of how many leaves are green vs. brown, or how many weeks have passed since harvesting the scapes, etc. These can be used as indicators, but it’s really more of an art than that, paying attention to when the bulb wrappers are ready. Keep in mind that it’s better to harvest early rather than late. If you wait too long, the bulb wrappers will deteriorate and even open at the top, allowing dirt and water to enter the bulb and start the rotting process. We usually use a garden fork to loosen the soil around a few plants and then can pull adjacent plants since as you pull, the soil around adjacent plants will be loosened. If the plants don’t pull easily, use the fork to loosen the soil again.

Curing: After harvest, we cure the garlic for 2 – 3 weeks, depending on the weather. Make sure to cure it in a well ventilated area, out of direct sunlight. Once cured, we cut the stems and roots. We also carefully rub the outer layer of wrapper off of any dirty bulbs, except for those that we hold back for planting in the fall – we leave them dirty.

Storage: After curing, we store the garlic in mesh bags or ventilated totes in a cool, dark area that is above 55 degrees. Later in the fall, we have to regulate the temperature, because if it gets too cold, the garlic will think it’s time to start growing and will start to sprout. A couple of weeks before planting, we move our seed garlic to a colder area (40 – 50 degrees), which sends the garlic the message that it’s time to start sprouting.

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