There isn't one right way to grow your garlic crop and farming isn't perfect. If what you have grown produces what you hope for then you are doing it right! On our farm we are held to certain farming practices in order to be organically certified. This requires us to think ahead every step of the way so we do not have an irreversible 'oops' moment somewhere down the road. What we do here may not be what works best for you in your own personal garden or commercial crop. What we do here is not the only way. Growing garlic is easy with a little bit of care. Growing food is an experiment and an act of hope! Always try your best and just as important, always keep trying.
Here's a general rundown of planting garlic to help you bring in a successful crop. We've added in notes of things we do or don't do that is specific to our operation. We highly recommend a few books that do a great job of breaking things down even further. Growing Great Garlic: Ron L. Engeland, The Complete Book of Garlic: Ted Jordan Meredith, Teaming with Microbes, Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis.
Preparing your cloves:
If planting multiple varieties, only work with one variety at a time. Have your rows marked out with which variety is going in ahead of time, or as you go. Be gentle with your cloves as you separate from the bulb. Do not toss them around. Garlic bruises and nicks very easily and damaged cloves invite disease or poor plant growth. When popping your cloves try your best to avoid pulling off the clove skin itself, but it does happen so don't too worried about it when it does. Here's a great video on an easy, efficient way to pop your cloves. Only choose the largest and firmest bulbs and cloves to plant. If any cloves look weird, funky or have damage, cull them from planting. Use that garlic and make something delicious. We recommend making a jar of Honey Fermented Garlic. Check our recipe here!
Our thoughts: We pop our cloves same day and within a couple hours of planting. We divvy out the cloves into smaller personal buckets and plant from there.
For most regions plan to plant your garlic in the Fall for a harvest the following Summer. This is typically 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. This allows your garlic enough time to set root before it goes into dormancy until next Spring. After planting you may see some leaf growth. This is OK as long as it's minimal. The timing of planting is so the roots can establish and the top growth is none to minimal. Target planting date is generally mid-October. Check your zone for average freeze dates in your particular region. In 2021 all our seed garlic was in the ground by the end of October. We saw 1" leaf growth in some of our two varieties 4 weeks later before dormancy.
As a matter of fact, garlic can grow in conditions and soil quality that would seem terrible. It's not that picky! For plentiful yield and large healthy plants, garlic grows best in fertile, loose, and well-draining soil. Compacted soils can stunt the growth of your garlic. Over saturated soil can cause mold. Amending your soil with compost or composted manures is always a benefit and adds nutrients to your soil. Your garlic can be grown in rows, raised rows, raised beds, and in deep containers. Your cloves should be planted approximately 6" apart and 4" deep. Plant your cloves pointy side up! Roots grow from the small scab spot at the bottom of the clove. Garlic loves all the sunshine it can get.
There are many ways to set your seed. You can use a hand tool, purchased or handmade, called a dibbler that is specifically made to create holes in the ground for seeds or bulbs. You can dig in with your finger or you can make a trench. Place your cloves and cover gently with your topsoil. Give a light, gentle water if your soil is dry. You may choose to cover your garlic with mulch. There are many, many reasons to mulch. Mulch helps regulate soil temperature in colder climates, helps retain soil moisture, and helps inhibit weed growth and erosion. Adding too thick of a layer of mulch can create disadvantages such as retaining too much moisture, overheating the soil and blocking light, and harboring of pests, to name a few. You may need to experiment with many different types and depths of mulch to get the right balance! When your mulching is complete give yourself a high-five. You have just planted your garlic crop!
Our thoughts: We prepare raised rows for our garlic and our cloves are 4 across within each row, planted 4" inches deep with 6" spacing. Our aisle width is wide between each row. This gives us plenty of room for our bodies and our tools to move around for the weeding we do in the garlic rows and also in the aisle rows. With a little bit more room there isn't any sunlight competition between varieties in their different stages of growth. We would also like to explore the possibility of companion planting in the aisle rows. Fertilizer: Our healthy garlic starts with our soil! We are lucky to live in an area with beautiful, nutrient rich soil and we believe our farm practices make it even better. It just looks good and feels good! We do our best to let the healthy microbes do their job. Our soil amendments are composts from organic materials (cover crops) and composted manures from our own livestock. These amendments are mixed with the native soil at the time of preparing new crop plots and we leave it be for the entire growing season. Appropriately preparing and tending future crop soils year round and at on-set of planting is our best practice. Mulch: Currently, we use a one-time use, black mulch film over our raised rows. There was so much of it left by the prior owners when we bought our farm that we will be using it until it's gone. In our particular climate and with high wind exposure, drought concerns and irrigation challenges, it works well for our needs at this time. When the time comes to explore different mulch methods we will experiment with alternatives.
Scott planting seed garlic at the end of a beautiful day in October.
After a long Winter rest your bulbs will begin to awaken in the warming soil. Much is happening underground and you will begin to see new, delicate leaves emerge! Garlic isn't thirsty for a lot of water and keeping your soil saturated will only cause rot. Garlic should only be watered a few times a week and a light mulch layer will retain moisture well. It's important to keep up on weed removal until harvest. Weeds will steal water and nutrients from your garlic and some garlic varieties are adversely affected by weeds more than others. By mid Summer keep an eye out for long flowering stems, the scapes, to emerge out of hardneck varieties. We've touched on garlic scapes briefly at the end of our Hardneck Garlic / Softneck Garlic page. At the time you harvest your scapes is the time you should give one last watering and then shut it down. The removal of scapes and water reduction is the garlic plant's indication to put all their energies into bulb growth. Maximum bulb growth happens over the next 3-4 weeks. Get ready- harvest is just around the corner!
Our thoughts: We use a Compact Raised Bed Mulch Layer tractor implement that raises our beds, lays the mulch film tight and buries two rows of drip irrigation tape all in one fell swoop. It's a nifty piece of equipment that allows us to completely build our garlic rows in one day. The drip tape lays approximately 5" sub surface of the soil so that only the roots of our bulbs are directly impacted by watering, which is ideal for the depth of our planted cloves. We often have high, drying winds on our farm and sub surface irrigation works well to prevent premature top watering evaporation.
Garlic beds being raised up with the help of Blue.
The biggest question is knowing when to harvest the bulbs. There is no magic date to go by year after year but you only need to watch the garlic leaves! For us, this happens sometime in July. Each garlic plant grows 6-10 leaves depending on variety. Each leaf extends down the stem to wrap around the bulb and are the thin, papery wrappers that cover and protect the bulbs after curing. If harvest is too soon bulbs haven't reached their maximum size and weight. If bulbs are harvested too late the protective layers will have begun to decay underground and this will affect the quality of storage in the following months to come. Feel free to pull a bulb or two from each variety and get a hands on look and feel to see how they are doing before you pull your rows. You may also pull back some soil without exposing roots to get a look at the bulbs that way. Harvest when the bottom 1/3 of leaves have died and the remaining green leaves are starting to show some yellowing or brown tips.
Do not pull the stems to remove garlic from the ground. Remember, garlic bruises easily! Use a shovel to loosen up the soil giving plenty of room around the bulbs. Working in small batches and keeping all leaves intact, remove your bulbs from the ground and immediately take to a shaded area- preferably right into the area you will be curing your garlic. Sunlight will make quick work of damaging your garlic at harvest!
Our thoughts: We prefer to harvest our bulbs a week early rather than a week too late. Because we sell a product that has a typical shelf life under best growing and care conditions which includes harvest timing, we feel that we should be more concerned with passing on quality in shelf life over maximum bulb weight for both the seed garlic and culinary garlic consumer. While bulb weight is just as important we like to meet in the middle.
Curing & Storage:
Garlic does not need to be cured, or dried to enjoy immediately. But if you want to enjoy fresh garlic long term it needs to be cured out of sunlight after harvesting. This includes direct exposure through windows and doors. Gather your intact garlic plants into bunches of 7-10, wrap up secure with a loop of twine and hang. The bulbs should be hanging lowest. Alternatively, you can lay out the garlic plants in a single layer on racks to dry. If you have multiple bunches allow a fair amount of breathing room in between. Garlic needs moderate humidity and good ventilation for successful curing to ensure long term storage. Plan on your garlic curing for 2-3 weeks minimum. Be patient! The curing process is what makes the garlic leaves shrink up tight to protect those juicy, plump cloves. When the outer skins are papery you can trim the roots up short against the garlic bulb and cut the leaves down to no less than 1" from the top of the bulb. Gently and in a downward motion, remove only enough of the outer wrappers to get to clean papers underneath. Excess removal of wrappers shorten shelf life. A soft toothbrush is helpful to remove bits of dried soil from the root area. With your softneck varieties keep the leaves intact if you wish to braid your garlic into lengths or wreaths. This is a beautiful and practical way to store garlic in your home. Hold back the absolute largest of your beautiful bulbs to replant in the Fall. We hope this is a proud and fulfilling moment for you. You have just come full circle in sustaining your food! We cheer you on in your hard-earned bounty, for both the home gardener and profit-farmer alike.
Continue to store your garlic in a cool, dry and well ventilated area out of the sun. Extreme temperatures on either side of the spectrum will shorten the shelf life of your garlic. Ideal humidity is 40-50%. Choose a breathable carton or a light mesh bag for holding. Do not store your garlic in plastic bags or air-tight containers, and do not refrigerate. Refrigeration puts your garlic back into a dormancy stage and when brought out to room temperature for any length of time the garlic will want to sprout!
Our thoughts: Well-tended curing and storage prevents mold/fungus and ensures quality of shelf life. We have one half of our barn dedicated to cleanly preparing, curing and storing our garlic. Our garlic hangs and cures on built-in rafters out of the sunlight with excellent ventilation controlled by multiple barn doors. Our humidity hovers around 40%. Each variety is provided its own row or section during curing and storage that is marked by color coded vinyl tape and referenced into a notebook to prevent variety mix-ups. We store our garlic in mesh onion bags with each variety graded by seed and culinary size.
Garlic curing and storage in our barn