How to Grow Garlic
Seed Garlic Planting Tips
So, you just received your seed garlic, now what? Follow the tips below for the best success in planting and growing garlic!
When To Plant
Here in BC, the best time to plant your garlic is at the end of September to about mid October. If you live in the gulf islands, like we do, you know that the rainy season can come upon us quite quickly and without much notice. We aim to have our garlic in the ground between September 21 and October 21. After that, the rainy season can become even more unpredictable. Ideally, you want to plant your garlic on a nice dry day - or as some folklore states: in the middle of the night during a full moon, naked! - we have not tried this method yet but have heard it can be both adventurous and successful!
How To Plant
This requires planning so read thoroughly before starting.
Cracking bulbs can be time consuming, but it is necessary to do it right. Carefully crack your bulbs one at a time, separating the cloves from the bulb papers and leaving the individual clove skin in tact as much as possible. If there is too much of the clove exposed to dirt or elements you may increase your chances of rot and disease. Once the cloves are separated, plant the cloves within 24 hours. The longer the cloves are exposed to air, the more moisture will evaporate from the cloves. Dry, wrinkled cloves are not ideal for planting as seed garlic. This is why planting grocery store garlic doesn't always yield great results - you don't know how old the bulb is!
Once the bulbs are cracked, get to planting! In our climate, cold temperatures are not much of a risk. We plant our garlic between 2-4" deep in the soil. That means that the bottom of the clove is, at the deepest, 2-4" from the top of the soil. Plant the clove so that the flat end (or root) is down and the pointy end is up towards the sky - in a teardrop shape. If you live in colder climates, you may want to plant your garlic a little bit deeper, or mulch it more thickly to keep it from freezing and dying off. Cover up the clove, and press down the soil lightly. If you are planting a row of garlic, you want the spacing to be 6" apart.
Once the garlic is planted, we recommend mulching it with straw or hay (hay without seed heads is best but sometimes unavoidable). Mulch the garlic before the first frost - check your local nursery for what date that is in your region. Mulching increases the insulation covering the clove just enough that if you do happen to get a cold snap that isn't typical for the climate, the clove is still protected. Mulch also conserves moisture, and reduces the weed pressure. Since we use horse manure in our soils, we still get some weeds coming up in spring and the mulch definitely helps to reduce the number of weeds. If you have a warmer winter and some of the garlic leaves start to push through the soil, fear not! Your garlic should be fine. The leaves will die back in the winter with the cold, and return again in the spring.
Springtime is the best time! We love seeing the first green blades of grass, and even more so, the first garlic leaves pushing through the mulch! In the spring your job is to fertilize the garlic, and keep that garlic free of weeds. Fertilizing starts when the leaves are 4" tall. As we are growing all of our vegetables organically, we use an organic kelp and fish fertilizer. This is a foliar feeder, and we do this every two weeks for about a month from the first fertilizing. Once you start fertilizing, watch those weeds shoot up too! Try to keep the weeds under control as best as you can, pulling them up by the root so they don't continue to grow back. Garlic does not like to compete with others for nutrients so if you can keep the garlic clear of weeds, your chances of having nice big garlic bulbs will be higher. Usually around the middle of May we start checking the soil for moisture. This is simple: just dig down into the soil until you see dark, moist soil. Ideally you want the soil to stay moist 4" below the surface of the soil. If you mulched, this will help keep the soil more moist than if it has not been mulched. If you don't see moisture, it is time to start irrigating. Garlic doesn't like a lot of moisture, just one inch a week is sufficient.
Next up is garlic scapes! This wonderful, round and tasty stalk will start to come up around the beginning of June. Let it curl once and then cut it and eat it! Garlic scapes produce beautiful flowers, which in turn go to seed. The best time to cut them is when they have curled once - some varieties will have two or even three curls. Cutting off the scape helps to direct the energy back into the bulb to continue to grow. If you forget to the cut the scapes and the bulbs form into flowers you can cut those up and enjoy the mild garlic taste fresh in salads. Keep an eye on our instagram page during scape harvest as we always experiment with different recipes and post about it there.
Once the scapes are cut and enjoyed, the garlic bulbs can continue to grow 25% each week until harvest time.
Around the middle to end of June (depending on your weather of course), the garlic leaves will start to yellow. Ideally, you want to stop watering your garlic for three weeks before pulling it out of the ground. Keep an eye on when this happens. You want 4 leaves to be green prior to harvesting the garlic. Too many yellow leaves means that there is not a lot of skin left on the bulb to protect it from damage while harvesting, or for storing the garlic long term.
This is an exciting time here for sure! After all the care you put into planting, weeding, and fertilizing you finally get to see the bulbs! If you have a fork or broad-fork, gently loosen the soil around the bulbs, at least 3" away from the bulb. Pull the whole garlic stalk out and then lay the bulb down on the soil and complete the rest of your harvest. Once all the bulbs are out of the ground, gather them up and hang them to cure.
In order to store the garlic long term, the garlic needs to be properly cured. Hang the garlic - in bunches if you have quite a few - in a dark and well ventilated space. We group 10 bulbs into a bunch, and hang them on a string in 10 bunches per string.
Depending on the region, the curing time can be 2-4 weeks long. The garlic is cured when the paper feels dry and brittle and easily comes off in your hand.