We say “easy” because the crop yield of garlic is so impressive in relativity to such a small amount of space and with an equally small amount of work. Indeed, growing garlic is a “small victory.” Although this crop isn’t difficult to grow or harvest, there are a few things to keep in mind when plotting out your garlic.
Firstly, like any crop, there are quite a few of variations of garlic. Attempting to acclimate oneself with, by some counts, the 600 cultivated sub-varieties of garlic in the world can be a real pain in the neck. So let’s try to save yours by focusing on two of garlic’s: softnecks and hardnecks.
Softnecks are more commonly found in the marketplace because they are easier to grow in mild to warm climates, whereas hardnecks thrive in colder climates where a true winter takes place. The difference between the two is distinct: the whole green part of the softneck plant dies down and becomes malleable, leaving only the bulb and braidable stem, where the hardneck stems are stiff and produce scapes, or “flowers.”
Garlic scapes are edible, and like garlic, have a variety of flavors. In order to get the most flavor and tenderness from your garlic scapes you must snap them before they become too rigid and fibrous to eat (hence the hardneck denomination). Conventional wisdom, as it pertains to garlic scapes, is to cut them so they don’t suckle the energy that could be used to produce better bulbs. In actuality, however, the scapes draw little from the bulb’s progress. Thus, we say it’s better to cut the scapes not for the sake of the bulb, but rather for the sake of enjoying the garlic plant in its entirety!
Before you can enjoy your garlic, you’ve got to plant it. For outdoor gardeners, mid-fall is the most ideal time to plant as bulbs will be larger and more flavorful when you harvest them in the summer months. In areas that get a hard frost, plant your garlic 6-8 weeks before that frost creeps in. In southern areas, such as zones 7-8, planting should occur in February and very early spring. If you are greenhouse growing with climate controlled spaces, you can plant your garlic whenever you see fit. (We suggest this method)
Break apart cloves from the bulb and plant each clove about 4 inches apart from each other and 2 inches deep. Make sure that the soil you are planting in is well-drained with a slightly acidic to neutral pH levels. Garlic requires nitrogen to thrive and one must fertilize accordingly. If you see yellowing leaves, it’s time to add more fertilizer. Water your garlic every 3-5 days, you want your garlic to be well hydrated by your soil to be well-drained. It is better to err on the side of 5 days than to risk drowning your garlic.
Speaking of well-drained soil, it is best to harvest your garlic when the soil is dry and loose. Garlic bulbs are delicate and any damage risks shortening their storage life. The best part about garlic harvesting is that, if you intend to use the garlic fresh, the window of opportunity to harvest is open very wide. Many people assume that when the leaves have died down, garlic is ready for harvest. This is simply not the case, as you should harvest garlic when the leaves are mostly still green aside from the lower leaves. A good rule of thumb is that if the leaves look half dead, you’re good to go!
When one speaks of curing garlic, they aren’t speaking of the homeopathic prowess of the crop. Although garlic has been linked to various health benefits, ranging from antibiotic to blood sugar stabilization, “curing” garlic means fixing it up for eating! To cure garlic, let the entire plant (leaves and all) dry out in a single layer where it is warm, dry, and not directly in the sunlight. When the outer skin has a paper-like feel, brush off the dirt and clip the roots. Washing the garlic thoroughly leads to shortened storage life, so try and keep them as close to nature intended as possible.
There isn’t much more to it! Garlic is a very easy crop to plant, grow, and harvest, and it doesn’t take a toll on your soil or yourself. So go ahead and enjoy your garlic harvest and your “small victory.”