Garlic is one of the easiest and most rewarding crops for home gardeners to grow. Since there are so many different varieties with different flavor profiles, it is worth setting aside a small spot each fall to plant some. As a bonus, garlic is easy enough for even beginning gardeners to grow and requires very little care.
Growing, Harvesting, and Curing Garlic
Two Types of Garlic
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The “neck” refers to the flower stalk that grows from the garlic bulb. Each type has many different varieties to choose from, so it’s fun to try a few different kinds each year.
Hardneck garlic varieties have fewer cloves per head and are typically smaller. The stalk grows into a scape in the spring, which should be cut off so the plant puts its energy into the bulb. Garlic scapes are delicious to cook with and an added bonus of growing hardneck garlics.
Softneck garlic varieties are what is typically found in a grocery store. The heads are larger, with more cloves, and will keep for a longer period of time. Hardneck varieties are the better choice where winters are long and harsh, while softnecks do better in milder climates.
However, I successfully grow both types in my Zone 7a garden.
Things to Know Before You Grow
Garlic is the last crop planted in the fall, and takes about 9 months to be ready for harvest. In colder regions, garlic should be planted about 4 weeks before the ground freezes. In milder climates, garlic can be planted in January or February.
Garlic likes rich, loose soil. Prepare the bed before planting by raking a couple inches of compost, well rotted manure, and/or leaf mold into the top few inches of soil. A few days before planting, separate seed heads into individual cloves – there is no need to peel. Each clove will grow into a whole new head of garlic.
Planting and Growing Garlic
Push the cloves about 2” into the ground, blunt end down, with 4” between each clove. Rows should be spaced 8”-12” apart. After planting, water well. A couple weeks after planting, mulch with a 4 to 6 inch layer of straw or shredded leaves. The mulch not only protects the garlic from freezing temperatures, but it also holds in moisture and cuts down on weeds.
Harvesting and Curing Garlic
Garlic is typically harvested in early to mid-summer, when about ⅓ of the leaves have died. Loosen the soil with a large garden fork and gently pull up the heads.
At this point the garlic needs to cure for a few weeks in a warm, dry place with good airflow: a shed or covered porch is ideal.
The garlic can be hung from rafters or laid out on a rack. Once the garlic has cured, it is ok to brush off the dirt and trim the stems. The garlic can be stored long term in a mesh bag, cardboard box, or other breathable containers to enjoy all winter long.
You can even save your largest bulbs to plant the next fall. Happy planting!
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About the Author:
Mia Cover is an avid home gardener and beekeeper, and runs a garden club at an inner-city high school. She lives with her husband and kids on a tiny urban farm in Nashville, TN.