Garlic is an essential flavor in so many of our favorite dishes: pesto, pasta marinara, pizza, curry, asian noodle soups, and, of course, garlic bread! Check out our recipe this month for a delicious variant of the home-cooked classic garlic bread: Garlic Chips.
They used to say, “How do you kill an onion plant? With a hammer!” Onions are sturdy plants, and garlic is much the same. Garlic is a simple crop to get some yield from, but we’ll tell you how to get a great yield and choose the tastiest varieties.
Garlic and onions (and chives and leeks) are all in the allium plant family. They are monocots, and grow one leaf at a time that sprouts from the base of the plant. Like most plant families, all alliums tend to be susceptible to the same pests and diseases, including “onion white-rot.” Keep this in mind for your crop-rotations; Try not to plant any of these plants in the same bed, year after year.
Garlic is normally propagated using its cloves. The plant almost never produces viable seeds (at least since being bred by humans for the last few thousand years). To separate cloves, break apart the garlic bulb, but do not peel the cloves inside; just separate them. Each clove can sprout and produce a garlic plant. As the plant matures, it will grow a new bulb at its base and a number of new cloves inside. The largest cloves are most likely to sprout and grow into a viable plant.
We recommend purchasing garlic for growing from suppliers that can certify it as “disease-free.” Bountiful Gardens carries several interesting varieties to choose from.
Several months ago the farmers at our flagship mini-farm in Willits, California, did a taste test of several garlic varieties. All of the hard-neck varieties came out exhibiting far more distinctive flavors. On the other hand, it is thought that soft-neck varieties are easier to grow and give larger yields in our mild Bay Area climate. Conundrum!
As an aside, we are always interested in crops that produce an edible yield and material for our compost pile. Polish Jenn and German Porcelain (hard-neck) varieties produce far more bio-mass than other varieties (through their leaves, stalks, and roots).
You will get a far larger yield if you over-winter your garlic, rather than plant it in the spring, because it will have longer to grow in a cooler temperature range. Planting your crop by October 15 will allow it to get established before the weather turns too cold. Put the cloves straight into the ground, pointy-side-up, with the tip sticking out a little.
Locate your bed where it will receive ample winter sunlight to help the garlic develop during the coldest parts of the season. Garlic helps to repel aphids, so it could be planted near your crops that often get attacked.
Garlic does not need to be watered heavily. Once planted, some people recommend waiting until you see a sprout to start watering it. You should stop watering 1-2 weeks before harvesting.
Here is a handy rule of thumb for harvesting… the mature plants will have around 12 green leaves. Toward June and July, the leaves begin to die back. When there are 6 leaves left, you should harvest your garlic.
Plants may produce “top-sets” which are cloves that grow in the flower stock. These cloves can be eaten or used to grow more plants, but some people suggest cutting the flower stalk before top-sets form to ensure more of the plant’s energy goes into forming the cloves at the base of the plant.
Once harvested, garlic bulbs need to be cured by leaving them in a warm dry place for at least 3 weeks. Then, cut off the roots down to ~1″ and either braid the dry stalks together, or cut them off down to 2″. The bulbs can then be stored in a cool (above 65 F), dry, and well ventilated place for several months. Storing them in the refrigerator will cause them to sprout, and the freezer will sterilize them so they never sprout. Hard-neck varieties can be stored the longest, with some being good for up to 9 months!
The following chart is a handy reference for growing garlic using our methods.
|Plant directly into bed|
|Max. Plants/100 sq. ft.||1,343|
|Weeks to Maturity in Bed||17-44*|
|‘Intermediate’ Yield per 100 sq-ft||120 lb|
*depending on the season and the variety
Garlic is a great GROW BIOINTENSIVE calorie crop since it gives you such a large yield from such a small area. The only problem is that it can take 8 months from planting to harvest. Luckily you don’t need to plant a ton of it to satisfy your needs, unless you plan to live off of it, in which case, we would love to hear about how that works out for you!
We’ve planted the Chesnok Red hard-neck garlic variety in one of our beds. Stop by Common Ground Garden some time and check out the sprouts. This summer we should have some beautiful cloves to taste!