Garlic. We all know cooks and foodies love it for the flavor. But did you know that garlic is good for your health? Years of research have determined that a diet rich in garlic can help reduce heart disease, lower cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Best of all, garlic is very easy to grow and requires little maintenance. You can grow enough garlic in one season to last you and your family all year long.
Want large, robust heads of heirloom garlic? Here are a few tips that will help you have the best garlic harvest ever.
Location, Location, Location!
The best garlic grows in full sun, but it can still grow well in partial shade. Make sure you grow your garlic in well-drained, rich, organic soil for best results. Amending your soil with organic compost is a great idea when growing garlic.
Raised beds are a great way to grow garlic, and growing it in containers is a good option for apartment dwellers and those who need to stick to small patio gardens. Just make sure your containers are well drained.
All you need to get started is a clove.
Garlic should be planted in the fall as temperatures begin to cool down. For most of us, that means somewhere between late September and November. Just don’t wait too long – make sure to get your garlic in the ground before the first hard freeze.
To grow garlic, you simply plant the cloves (the small sections of the garlic bulb) in the ground. Each clove will grow into a new head of garlic. Before planting, it is recommended that you soak your garlic in a jar of water for a few hours before placing it in the ground. This will help protect your garlic from fungal diseases.
Plant your garlic with the flat end down, and the pointed tip up. You will want to plant each clove about 2 inches below the soil line, and your cloves should be spaced about 6-8 inches apart.
Care and Maintenance Tips
Garlic is easy to grow, but will not grow well alongside weeds or grass as they will choke out the garlic. Therefore, you should clear out your garlic bed before planting and take care to remove all weeds and grass. After planting, make sure you mulch your garlic bed with about 6 inches of organic mulch such as straw, dried grass clippings, or leaves.
Garlic shoots will begin to emerge in 4-8 weeks, depending on the climate where you live. Don’t worry if your garlic seems to quit growing in the cold winter months. This is normal, as garlic goes dormant for a few months. Your garlic will start growing again as temperatures warm in the late winter and early spring.
Your garlic needs approximately one inch of water each week during its growth periods in the fall and spring. You won’t need to worry as much about watering it in the winter as it goes through the dormant stage. However, don’t let your garlic beds get bone-dry. Around the beginning of June, you will want to stop watering your garlic by hand. This will help guarantee your bulbs are firm, healthy, and large at harvest time.
Fertilize your garlic with an organic, liquid fertilizer like ProtoGrow every 2-3 weeks in the spring. For the healthiest garlic bulbs, it is good practice to start fertilizing your garlic beds around March 1st and then feed them again every three weeks until the end of May or early June.
Garlic Scapes – What should I do with them?
Sometime around late May and early June, depending on your climate, your garlic will start to send up a flowery top. We call this a garlic scape. Scapes can be long with spikes or curly and thin. You should remove the scapes once you notice them. This forces your garlic to keep growing and will produce larger, more mature bulbs.
But don’t throw your garlic scapes away. They are delicious and have many culinary uses. Some gardeners like the scapes more than the garlic harvest!
Harvesting & Drying
Sometime in late June to early July, your garlic will be ready to harvest. As leaves turn to a yellowish-brown and begin to dry up, it’s time to harvest. Carefully dig up each garlic bulb; yanking or pulling your garlic can break the stalk and this may cause your garlic to rot before it has time to cure and dry. Bundle the stalks of garlic into groups of 5-10 bulbs. Tie them and hang them up in a dark and dry area to dry and cure for approximately 6 weeks.
One the garlic is dry, cut back the stalk and carefully trim off the roots. You will want to leave a few inches of stalk above the bulb if you plan to store the garlic in containers. You may also choose to store your garlic in traditional garlic braids. No matter how you choose to store your garlic, make sure to keep them in a cool and dry area.