Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to grow garlic

Yesterday we harvested the garlic... already! The garlic harvest usually indicates to me that summer is winding down and fall is on its way, but it seems too early this year. It is one of my favorite garden tasks, you tug on the stock and a whole garlic clove is unearthed, kept safe for a whole year by dirt and hay. It is so flavorful and healthy, don't you love it?

In this blog, I will tell you how to grow killer garlic! It is easy to do, low maintenance and very rewarding.

Growing Great Garlic


This is when you will want to go to your farmers' market and start talking to your farmer about the different varieties of garlic that she/he grows. You may be surprised at the difference in taste, bulb size and clove size. We grow German Extra Hardy, a monstrous variety with incredible flavor. The flavor is so intense that you cannot use it raw. The bulb is much bigger than what you would buy in the grocery store, but only has five to eight cloves on it. The other variety we grow is called Phillips. It is smaller and milder, and has a pretty purple shell. So ask around and find out what will work best for you. Do not go to the grocery store to buy your seed garlic. It is not local and therefore is not right for your growing conditions.

How much to buy: Estimate the number of garlic bulbs you go through in a month and multiply it by 12. This is how much garlic you go through in a year and how many bulbs you should grow. You should also have a few extra growing to plant the next year. Ask your farmer about how many cloves there are per bulb. You are going to plant the individual cloves, so figure out how many bulbs you will need to buy... plus some for your winter pantry!

Garlic Preparation: You will need to prepare your garlic for the garden. The first step is to find a good movie to turn on at the end of a long day. You will need to carefully break apart the bulbs so that each individual clove still has a papery shell. This shell is the garlics winter coat, so try not to crack it. This task is easy to do as you're watching a movie or listening to a book on tape!

Garden Preparation: Pick a place in your garden that is well fertilized and that has fairly good drainage. The garlic that you plant will be there for almost a whole year, so don't plan on using this plot next year for something else. You will need the soil to be soft enough to press the cloves into the ground about an inch, so rototill or use a garden fork to loosen the ground. You will want a little more than 1 square foot of garden space per garlic clove. You will also need a whole lot mulch. We use hay; while it is cheap, there are grass seeds in it, so you can expect a lawn the next year. Straw is more expensive, but a better choice for the home gardener as there are no seeds. Other choices are leaves or dried grass clippings.

Getting Dirty: Plant each clove pointy side up. Press the clove into the soil with your thumb and forefinger until it is 1inch below the surface. Plant the garlic 8 inches apart in rows that are about 18 inches apart. Once you have planted all of your garlic, cover the rows with 4 inches of mulch. This will keep the garlic cool and will keep out the sunlight so that they do not start to sprout before winter comes.

Early Spring:

As soon as the snow starts to melt you will see your garlic emerging through the mulch! It is pretty amazing to see green when all of the world is white and brown. When the snow is gone, make sure that all of the garlic has emerged through the hay, and help the ones that can't make it by moving mulch out of the way. Mulch again in the places that need it so that you won't have to weed quite as much.

Sit back and watch your plants grow!

Early Summer:

Garlic Scapes: You will notice that a curly stem is starting to grow out of the top of your plants. This is called the garlic scape. It is the flower of the garlic plant. Cut these off before they stand straight up. You can puree them with olive oil and salt and use it as a garlic spread for sandwiches or garlic bread!! Yum!!

Fertilize: This is also when we give the plants a boost with compost tea. Mix good compost with water and let it sit for a day. Mix it up well and water your plants at the base with the tea. It gives your plants a good boost.

Last week in June:

Harvest: When most of the leaves have fallen and turned brown, it is time to harvest! All you need to do is go though with a garden fork, loosen the soil around the bulbs, and pull! Wipe the soil from the roots and hang the garlic plants up in a place that is warm, dry and dark. We put them in the attic. In about 2 weeks, cut off the stems an inch above the bulb, snip off the roots and wipe with a dry soft brush... Now they're ready to enjoy! Store them in a cool, dry, dark place and they will last 9-12 months!