When you buy garlic in the grocery store, you purchase a "head," which is made up of 10 to 20 individual cloves. Garlic (the plant) is grown from individual cloves, which are relatively easy to purchase/find/borrow/steal (Rogue Valley Gardener does not promote the theft of garlic cloves!). The goal is to find some that aren’t bruised and were dried and handled properly.
Garlic, like other bulb-based plants, is a self-sustaining plant, and each plant can produce as much as 20 cloves, with some variation depending on variety. The head of garlic is what's most commonly eaten, and it's the part that grows underground, just like the bulb of another allium, like a lily. You can also eat the scapes, or crazy-straw-like curly tops.
Let's say you planted a clove in the fall of last year. By springtime, there is probably a shoot of green popping out of the ground. If you didn't harvest the garlic bulb when the shoot dies back, next year, you'd have lots of tiny garlic plants in a very concentrated spot, as each one of the cloves spouted another plant.
Preparing the Garlic for Planting
Before planting your cloves, soak each garlic clove (separated by variety, if you're growing a few different types) in one tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of liquid seaweed per gallon of water and let it sit overnight. The next day, remove the garlic, peel off the loose skin, place the cloves into rubbing alcohol or vodka and allow them to soak for three to four minutes. Plant immediately following the alcohol bath.
While garlic is naturally a fighter (fewer disease/bug problems) these baths help ensure your garlic doesn’t struggle with fungi and other insect/disease related issues.
First, find a garden location with lots of sun. It can be near other plants, in fact, garlic may help keep predators away from other plants. Remember as well that garlic likes damp but not wet soil. It may also be wise to consider using a raised bed that is well drained, as it helps protect the garlic from disease. Soil should be rich in organic content: compost, rotted manure, whatever you use to juice up your soil. Garlic in particular seems to grow better with organic gardening (feeding the soil) rather than chemical fertilizers (feeding the plant), because it likes the smorgasbord of micronutrients and minerals offered in good soil more than the N-P-K-type chemical fertilizers.
Break up the soil – shovel, trowel, or whatever your preferred tool is should be fine. Make sure the soil is loose enough to allow growth.
Plant the individual cloves upright (pointy end up, flat end down) and three to five inches below the surface. As you’ve broken up the soil, make sure it is loose even at this depth. Planting depth depends on what kind of winter temps you are likely to face, so here in the Rogue Valley, you don't need to worry about the ground freezing solid. If you're in Ashland or Grants Pass, you might want to put your garlic a little deeper than protected Medford back yards.
Place the garlic 6 to 8 inches apart, and garlic rows at least 18 inches apart.
As a plant that originated in the rocky slopes of mountains in the Middle East, garlic has gotten pretty good at caring for itself. The keys to remember are:
1) Don’t let the garlic get too wet or too dry. To check this, place your hand in the root zone (not on the roots or grabbing the roots) and pull your hand out. If the soil sticks or is muddy, it’s too wet. If your hand comes up completely dry and/or soil feels hard and warm, it’s time to water.
2) When spring rolls around, you might want to give your garlic a dose of fertilizer (if you've neglected to give your soil a boost at or before planting time).
3) Be patient! Garlic will ripen when the temperatures begin to warm.
When and How to Harvest Garlic
1) Watch for your plant leaves to turn brown. You want some of the leaves to turn brown, but don't let all the leaves go completely dead, or your bulb will be overripe. This is the signal that your garlic is ready to be removed.
2) To remove the garlic, gently push a trowel or shovel into the soil next to the plant (being very carefully not to disturb the garlic cloves) and scoop underneath to gently pop the cloves out. If your soil is soft and very loose, you might get away with gently pulling the plant out.
|Photo: Great Home Remedies|
Storing Your Garlic
Once you've pulled it out of the ground, hang your garlic in a dry, cool place by the stem (which you should leave attached). If the garlic is not properly dried, it will rot and your hard work will be for nothing! It's important at this stage to not bump the garlic around; it's more tender and prone to bruising.
After a few weeks, when the stem and leaves don't smell like garlic when cut, you can take the garlic down and gently brush off the loose dirt. By this point, all the moisture that was in the stem has retreated into the bulb. By not cutting prematurely, you're not opening the plant to fungi or disease that would keep it from storing well. Be careful not to bang/hit/cut the cloves in any way in order to keep them in the best possible condition for storing and planting.
The best storing temperature for garlic seems to be between 50 and 60 degrees, with humidity around 35-55%.
Love cooking with what you've grown? One of these recipes might strike your fancy! Have a favorite? Share with us and others via the comments below!
Looking for some visuals? Check out the video: