How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is an amazing, powerful and potent ingredient in any homestead kitchen. Not only is the pungent and spicy flavor profile of garlic well recognized and a characteristic staple in our own family’s culinary tradition, but it is a relatively easy and straight-forward plant to grow. Can you grow garlic? With proper planning and the appropriate conditions – absolutely!
purchasing Garlic Seed.
Garlic is often separated into two categories – “table” and “seed.” Table garlic, sometimes also referred to as “culinary” garlic, is a way of distinguishing garlic bulbs that are sized appropriately for culinary uses. In our experience, this simply means that the garlic is smaller than what would be desired for planting.
“Seed” garlic refers to the individual garlic bulbs that are better suited for planting. Again, this typically is just related to the size of the bulbs. This is because there is a relationship between the size of the planted garlic clove and the resulting bulb.
Note – a garlic clove refers to the individual garlic piece. A garlic bulb is the collection of garlic cloves, before the cloves are separated.
So, where are a few good places to purchase garlic? We recommend seeking out local sources first. This might be finding a garlic grower at a Farmer’s Market, a local farm, a neighbor or a family-member. It is always wise to consider plants that produce well in your respective geographical location. So, if you know that someone produces garlic near where you intend to plant the garlic, it is a good thing to at least consider the variety of the garlic being offered.
We have been impressed with the Garlic at Perkins’ Good Earth Farm and are also expecting an order soon from Filaree Garlic Farm. If you live near the Southeastern, Indiana area, we are substantially increasing our Garlic planting at Little Way Farm and Homestead and hope to be a leading garlic provider in the Cincinnati, OH tri-state region beginning in 2024.
How to Grow Garlic - Getting Started
Garlic is a great plant to begin in the Autumn. This timeline may vary depending on your geographic location. If you’re not certain about what your hardiness zone is, check out the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map by clicking here.
In Southeastern, Indiana, we are in Zone 6B. We plant garlic in early to mid-October. While many sources will suggest garlic can
be planted later in the winter, even after the ground has frozen, we find that much of the experience of planting is tarnished when the effort is unnecessarily increased (e.g., frozen vs thawed soil).
To plant garlic, separate the cloves from the bulbs. The wrappers may be left on the garlic cloves. Insert the cloves into loose soil, about 1 – 2 inches in depth and at least 6 inches apart. Place the flat end of the garlic clove firmly into the soil and cover the clove with soil. We like to plant garlic in rows with the soil mounded so as to promote warmth, appropriate moisture conditions and soil management. Once the garlic has been covered, make sure you apply a layer of mulching (e.g., leaf cover, hay, grass clippings, etc.). Ensure the garlic receives adequate water.
Once the Winter arrives and the soil temperature decreases, garlic will enter a dormant period. This follows the initial sprouting and establishment of the garlic plant. This period of dormancy is integral to the garlic’s development as it supports an early establishment, prior to dormancy, and a natural growth pattern once the ecological conditions afford such. This means that the garlic planted in the autumn will begin to emerge in the following Spring once the ground thaws.
Our experience at Little Way Farm and Homestead is with growing hardneck garlic. Hardneck garlic is a variety of garlic that results in a flowering stem in early Spring. This stem is referred to as a “scape.” Garlic scapes can be harvested at anytime but are very important to be harvested early before they become stalky so that they are more palatable in culinary uses. If you do not pick the garlic scape, the result will be that the stem will grow vertically and will eventually reveal a flower. This flower would result in seeds which could be planted as a means of growing garlic!
One important note, if the garlic scape is not pulled, then it is likely to draw nutrients away from the garlic bulb. Remember, it is the garlic bulb that separates into cloves and produces what is traditionally referred to as garlic, both for culinary and planting uses.
Hardneck garlic is typically ready for harvesting in late Spring and early Summer. At Little Way Farm and Homestead, we expect to harvest garlic between Late June and Early July.
You can test for the readiness of the garlic to be harvested by slowly separating the soil away from a bulb. Is the bulb about the size you would like to harvest? Pay attention to not disrupt too many other bulbs in the event that the garlic is not prepared to be harvested. A good indication of the readiness for harvest is that the green leaves (which connect to each layer of the garlic clove wrapper) will begin to brown and decrease to about five remaining leaves.
Once you have harvested the garlic, it should be “cured.” The process of curing garlic typically refers to allowing the garlic to dry out so that it becomes prepared for long-term storage. Hardneck garlic is particularly well-suited for curing and for long-term storage and use.
To “cure” the garlic and prepare it for storage, brush off any excessive soil and place on a surface, such as a wireframe, where good airflow can promote uniform drying. One strategy we use is to use a wireframe style shelving unit, placing multiple rows of garlic spread out across the shelves, and pointing fans at the garlic to circulate air around the shelving. This can be scaled up or down, depending on the quantity of garlic you have harvested. Remember, for every garlic clove planted, you can expect one bulb. A good rule to consider is that for every pound of garlic planted, you can expect a harvest up of up to five pounds.
Grow Garlic on the Homestead
Our family very much enjoys garlic – not just in the delicious meals cooked, but throughout its growing lifecycle. It is an important crop for our farm and also affords a lot of great family experiences. From planting with the children, to harvest time and the preparation for storage – garlic is an ingredient not only in our food but in bringing together community.