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“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian;
Wine and tarragon make it French.
Sour cream makes it Russian;
Lemon and cinnamon make it Greek.
Soy Sauce makes it Chinese;
Garlic makes it good.”
– Alice May Brock
I have always loved this quote about garlic.
I couldn’t agree more. Garlic does make it good.
However, most of the garlic in American grocery stores comes from China and has a shelf life of over a year. Flavor in commercial garlic is vastly diminished thanks to its long travel time and longer shelf life. So, really the garlic most American’s are eating isn’t as “good” as it could be.
Fortunately there is a solution that is pretty easy, self-sustaining, and really rewarding: Growing your own!
I planted garlic for the first time October 2013 unaware that Winter 2014 would be one of the coldest on record. When it came time to harvest I yielded just over 10%.
Not perfect. But, the bulbs I did harvest were great and I cannot wait to give planting garlic a try again in a couple weeks with the lessons I learned from my first year.
Here are the steps and my lessons learned for growing garlic from planting to harvest:
Okay, I know I said growing garlic is easy and it really is… but, the trickiest part is the timing of when to plant. Southern regions can plant garlic well into spring. But, to get large bulbs in northern regions, planting needs to take place in the fall.
What makes it tricky is that cloves need enough time to develop roots but not enough time for the tops to grow too far beyond the surface before winter. Some people say a good rule of thumb is about three weeks before the ground freezes. Others say just sometime in October.
Last year I planted garlic just after my area’s (North central Indiana: Zone 5) first frost which is what I plan to do again.
What is really cool about growing garlic is that it can grow well in just about any type of soil. Just make sure the bed the garlic is being planted in hasn’t held garlic, onions, scallions, chives or leeks in the last couple growing seasons and that the bed will get a lot of sunlight.
Garlic bulbs are grown from garlic cloves. You should get your cloves from a mail order seed catalog or website versus using the garlic from the grocery store.
This year I purchased two varieties of hardneck garlic blubs from Burpee Seeds. Hardneck varieties do well in northern areas and can tolerate a cold winter. Softneck garlic varieties grow best in the south.
Just before planting, separate the cloves from the bulbs. If you separate the cloves from the bulb and they wait too long before planting, the root nodules on the foot of the clove may dry out and make it hard for roots to set.
When separating the cloves you also want to be very careful so not to damage the foot, or bottom, of the clove. Keep the papery “husk” on each clove.
Large cloves are best for planting because they will yield a larger bulb. Small or damaged cloves are great for cooking with right away.
Garlic cloves should be planted with their wide end pointed down and pointed end facing up about two inches deep and 6-8 inches apart.
Water well and as green shoots pop up, cover the garlic beds with at least 3-5 inches of mulch, like hay. I plan to cover with even more mulch as the fall continues and a hard frost hits because the weather guys are calling for another really, really cold winter. (Yay… not.)
The shoots will stop growing over the winter and resume in the spring. Remove the mulch when the green shoots appear again as the temperature warms. Cut off any flowering shoots.
Be sure to not over water the garlic bulbs throughout the spring and summer, but especially watch it as the bulbs approach harvest.
Garlic that is planted in mid fall should be ready somewhere around late July and into early August. The leaves will begin to die, indicating the bulbs are ready.
Loosen the soil around the bulbs very carefully so not to bruise or split the bulb and lift the garlic out by hand.
Store the garlic bulbs in a cool dry place for curing for two weeks before using them.
Then, you can enjoy… and make something good.