October 1, 2019 – Washington Co., WI – The regular planting and growing season will end shortly, but one of my favorite vegetables has yet to go in the ground. Planted in the fall and harvested in the following growing season, Allium sevetum, better known as garlic, is one of the easiest plants a gardener could ever hope to plant.
There are two types of garlic: hard neck and soft neck. Hard neck garlic has a strong center stem which is surrounded by a circle of cloves. An example of this, German Extra Hardy, grows extremely well with 5-6 large cloves per bulb.
Soft neck garlic is the most common garlic and stores longer than hard neck. This is the garlic which you may see braided and hanging in a kitchen. This garlic would also be the best choice for baking an entire bulb with a drizzle of olive oil on top. Inchelium Red would be an example of a soft-neck garlic.
Garlic should be planted from mid- to late October in soil which is very rich in organic matter and raked free rocks and weeds. The goal is to plant before the soil is frozen, allowing each clove to set roots but not grow tops before winter sets in. I usually plant my garlic where tomatoes or potatoes were the previous year, forking in the mulch and creating loose, friable soil. Once the soil is prepared, it is time to plant.
First, make some plant markers so you can keep track of what you have planted, and which types produce well for you. Separate each clove from the bulb right before you are going to plant. Gently push the clove, point up and root end down, into the prepared soil about 3 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart. If you are planting more than one row, the rows should be about 12 inches apart. Water the garlic well and cover it with 4-5 inches of marsh hay, weed-free straw, or pine needles. It is also a good idea to put down long garden stakes, or pieces of lathe to hold the mulch in place over winter.
The garlic will come up in early spring and will need about an inch of water a week. If your soil is not rich in nutrients, you could pull the mulch back and top dress with some granular fertilizer or compost once the garlic is up. Leave the mulch in place throughout the entire growing season to keep moisture in the soil and help with weed control.
When the plant starts to die off, typically in mid-to late-June, watering–other than what Mother Nature provides–should stop. When there are only two or three green leaves remaining on the plant it will be time to harvest. Place a digging fork a good 6 inches or so away from the plant so that you don’t pierce the bulb. Loosen the soil and gently lift bulbs, tapping them on the ground to release remaining soil. Avoid washing the garlic so it will dry well. The next step is to hang the crop to cure and dry.
One of the best places to cure garlic is in a well-ventilated garage. Gather 4-5 plants together, tie them in a bunch or braid them, and hang it for about a month or two. During this time the tops will dry, and the outer skin will become very papery. When the bunches are absolutely dry, cut the bulbs off and put them in shallow boxes or mesh bags, taking care to label each variety. For long-term storage, garlic should be kept very cool and dry and not refrigerated. As you are trimming and cleaning the cured garlic, be sure to set aside one or two of your biggest bulbs of each variety to provide the seed for your next crop.
Because of its ease of growth and satisfying yield, garlic is one of the best additions to your home garden. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, you can tuck cloves in among your perennials and annuals and have a wonderful crop to use in your cooking or to share with others.
Photo courtesy Pinterest.