Since I’ve recently had a lot of people ask me questions about growing garlic I thought I would take you through a year in garlic growing. Growing garlic is pretty much a year round cycle and we have already begun our preparations for next years crop. Preparations actually started while I was cleaning the crop that we harvested this year. As I clipped and cleaned each bulb after they had dried, I also selected and set aside the bulbs that will be used as seed for next years crop.
Seed garlic is usually the largest bulbs that we harvest but even smaller bulbs may make the cut if they have large cloves. When planted, larger cloves (assuming the right growing conditions) will produce larger bulbs. I saved around 50 pounds of garlic for seed but we have since decided that we wanted to increase our production even more so I ordered another 20 lbs. There are many online sources for seed garlic and I do order my seed from one of these. Finding a source of locally grown garlic for seed may be advantageous, however, since garlic seems to take a couple of seasons to acclimate, and a garlic that is already used to your growing climate may perform better in the first season. Buying seed garlic can be costly, but considering you will save next years seed from the crop that you grow it should only need to be a one time purchase. I’ve seen prices anywhere from $17 to $25 a pound. At first glance you may you may think you have found a good deal but if you see seed garlic for $8 check the amount of garlic you are getting. It may only be 1/4 pound. I even saw one online source selling 2 bulbs for $9.
This is also the time of year that we prepare the ground for the garlic. The claim is that garlic will grow in any type of soil but will perform best in a well drained loam. Over the past few years we have found that garlic will indeed grow in soil that is heavy on the clay side but we have lost sections of garlic that were planted in low areas that did not drain well. So checking your drainage before planting is a good idea. We use this time between plantings to condition and nourish the soil. Our ground was tilled in early August, shortly after this years crop was harvested. At this time the straw that was used for mulch and any weeds that had grown up were worked into the soil, adding organic matter that is needed to help loosen the soil. Other ways to condition the soil include planting a cover crop that can be cut before planting the garlic, adding compost to the soil, or adding rotted manure to the soil. In different years we have utilized these different methods. We also tend to the area by mowing any plants that come up, whether they are weeds or cover crop, before they go to seed. The mowed clippings remain on the ground as a green manure and the would be seeds do not mature to grow up in next years garlic bed.
It is recommended that garlic be planted about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the roots time to begin to grow but the garlic should not sprout above ground. Our target date for planting this year is October 15th or 16th but we will be watching the weather forecasts as we approach those dates and may have to modify our plans if much rain is in the forecast. During last winter with warm temperatures and continual freeze and thaw cycles the garlic did sprout and the leaves suffered some freeze damage. I had great concerns about how this would effect the crop. What we discover upon harvesting was that while the hardneck varieties that are normally grown in northern climates such as ours produced decent size bulbs, the softneck varieties which are normally grown in warmer climates produced larger bulbs.
If you too are going to grow garlic this year, follow along. I plan on writing posts on each step along the way, so we can do this together. Please feel free to ask questions and share your experiences.