How to Grow and Care for Garlic
With a strong, pungent flavor, garlic
is prized for its wide and indispensable use as a kitchen herb.
You can buy garlic bulbs or sets from garden stores or mail-order sources. There are three types of garlic: Elephant, hardneck and softneck. ,Elephant, garlic is actually a bulbing leek and a good variety to look for if you want large, mild-flavored clusters. Elephant bulbs can weigh as much as 1lb. with 4-6 large cloves. Hardneck garlic will produce bulbs of 6-12 cloves while softneck produces 8-24 smaller cloves. Hardneck garlic does best in cold winter areas, while softneck garlic is a good choice for mild winter climates.
Choosing a site to grow garlic
Garlic is best grown in full sun (at least 6 hours a day) and well-drained soil rich with organic matter. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Consider planting it as a border around your garden to act as a natural insect repellent. You can also plant it in rows between lettuce, eggplants, cabbage, broccoli or tomatoes. Keep your garlic plantings away from beans and peas as it could hinder their growth.
Like onions, garlic is great for wide-row growing. Plant the cloves the full depth of the bulb , three or four inches apart, and firm the soil. Try a row 10 to 12 inches wide. To grow big garlic bulbs, plant the cloves in late fall. They'll mature the following summer. If you live in the North you can mulch garlic over the winter, but next season you'll have to watch out for seed stalks and pick them off right away. If you have a long growing season, you can also plant the cloves in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. However, the resulting heads will be smaller than fall-planted garlic. If you live in the South or Southwest, plant the cloves anytime from the fall through early spring. Plant early because garlic isn't fond of hot weather. It doesn't like competition from weeds, either.
Keep your garlic mulched and well watered from spring through early summer and remove competing weed growth. If you notice any flower stalks growing, be sure to prune them off whenever they appear. Removing flower stalks will help redirect energy to the bulb.
How to harvest garlic
Harvest garlic when the tops have only six to eight green leaves left or when most of the leaves have turned brown. Be sure to dig the bulbs within 2 weeks of the leaves browning, otherwise the papery covering surrounding the bulb will begin to deteriorate and cause the bulb to break apart . Pull the heads up and let them dry for a few days, and then cure them in an airy place, like onions. They'll keep for quite a while at 40deg F to 60deg F. Braiding is an excellent way to store them.
If you leave garlic bulbs in the ground over the winter, you can decide to let them go to seed the following season. At the top of the seed stalk the bulbs will produce 10 to 15 tiny bulbs that you can plant -- it's fun.
Consider harvesting the leaves and flower stalks. With a mild garlic flavor, both the leaves and flower stalks can be cut and harvested. Do this sparingly as taking too many leaves and flower stalks will result in smaller garlic bulb growth.