When to Plant: Garlic can be grown in all zones. For higher yields and larger cloves, the best time to plant is Fall. Both my dad (in Arkansas) and I (in Texas) plant ours in October.
Choosing Varieties: Soft neck varieties braid and store well; produce 12-13 cloves/head but have no flower stem and suit warm climates with mild winters. Hard neck garlic types send up a hard, flowering stem so are less suitable for braiding, are milder tasting but have a shorter shelf life as they have less layers of skin around the bulb. Elephant or Russian garlic is not a true garlic. Select varieties that grow well in your local climate zone.
Selecting cloves: If buying from a store, choose your bulbs carefully. Pick the largest bulbs you can find –the size of the cloves you plant will determine whether you get big or small heads when you harvest.
Chill garlic cloves in the fridge for a few weeks (this improves bulb development). You can skip this step but it helps grow bigger garlic.
To prevent rotting in the soil, here’s a little tip: soak your cloves in a glass jar with equal quantities of baking soda to organic liquid seaweed for 2 hours. e.g. for 8-10 cloves (1 average bulb) = 1 TB baking soda: 1 TB seaweed. Increase quantity depending on number of cloves you’re planting.
Likes: Full sun position; well-drained, humus-rich soil (add worm castings, homemade compost, humus, well-rotted manure or blood & bone) plus a balance of nutrients. Because garlic is a hungry root crop, the soil needs to be light and fluffy so turn it over gently if needed and mix your fertilizer in well first.
Garlic LOVES mulch to prevent weeds, provide protection, maintain soil moisture and keep soil cool longer.
Dislikes: Too dry (when young), too wet or freezing. The colder your winter, the deeper your mulch should be.
Separate the garlic head into individual cloves just before planting: Largest cloves will be around the outside and are ideal for planting. Small inner cloves can be used for cooking.
Sowing: Make a hole with your finger or the handle of your trowel roughly twice the depth of the clove (about 5cm/2in) and 10cm/4in apart.
Press down very firmly as you back fill with soil (to avoid the cloves being pushed out after a few days as the roots start to develop). Check at this stage and reposition them back into line! Water in well with liquid seaweed. When the shoots are about 5cm/2in high, add mulch thickly to suppress weeds.
Distance between rows: 12in.
Container planting: Garlic grows 15-24in high depending on the variety and although you may not get as large bulbs in a pot, they are most definitely worth growing. As they are a long growing crop, interplant with fast growing lettuces and leafy greens around the outside. Pot depth should be at least 6in.
Water regularly (unless it rains) until the plant flowers (hard neck varieties) or about 1 month before harvest (soft neck). This allows bulbs to dry out and harden. I maintain adequate soil moisture of 40-50% by checking every so often with a moisture meter. Soil should be moist NOT wet.
Most importantly keep weeds at bay (garlic has a big appetite and doesn’t like competition)!
As a guideline, harvest hard neck garlic when roughly 1/3 – 1/2 the leaves are brown and wilted. Harvest soft neck varieties when the bottom few leaves start dying off or the garlic falls over. If you’re not sure, pull out one bulb to test if it is fully formed before harvesting the whole crop.
To cure your garlic, hang in a dry, airy place in the shade or on racks to dry the bulbs for a couple of weeks (up to 4 weeks in cool zones).
Freeze: Place individual cloves in a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible, seal and label with the date. Store for up to 3 months. You can freeze garlic cooked or raw to use later. Whole cloves will retain their full flavor but chopped/minced raw garlic will start to develop allicin (this active ingredient is what makes it taste hot) so releasing it will give your garlic a more mellow taste. Just use a little more in the recipe if you choose to freeze, to make up for the less potent flavor when you defrost.
Freeze minced garlic in an ice cube tray for convenient portions.
Store in a garlic keeper or open weave basket but not near humidity or steam as this can reduce the bulb storage life.
Storing in the fridge will reduce the flavor of your gorgeous garlic – putting it in plastic or airtight containers can produce moldy, rotted or sprouting garlic!
In the mood for a garlic dish now? Here’s some fun recipes to try out that boast a hearty garlic flavor.
Do you like garlic? What’s your favorite dish that uses garlic?