Growing Garlic

 

 

Garlic is not a difficult crop to grow, although to produce a good crop, it does require timely care and attention.


The end result is in the beginning. In order to produce healthy bulbs, you must first start with clean healthy planting stock. There is a direct correlation between the size of the clove planted and the size of the bulb that is subsequently harvested. It is usual to cull out and not plant the smallest cloves, and those that have damage or obvious decay. Smaller cloves will produce a bulb, but typically it will not be large.


When to Plant


Most varieties of garlic do best when planted in the fall. Ideally, it is best to plant when the garlic has time to develop roots but not enough time so that the garlic is able to send up a shoot before the ground freezes. Usually, planting occurs about three weeks to a month before you expect the ground to freeze in your area. Spring planting is also possible, but expect higher spoilage losses and delayed harvesting.

   
 


We like to "crack" the bulbs shortly before planting. This is simply separating the cloves from each other. With hardnecks the woody stem can be rapped on a hard surface, which causes the cloves to break away from the basal plate. Inspect each clove for a healthy base and discard any that are damaged, too small or show signs of decay. Some garlics, particularly Rocamboles, are prone to producing cloves that are actually two or even three cloves within one clove skin. These can easily be separated by hand and planted. It is not important for the clove to have an intact clove skin when it is planted. They grow just as well with or without skins.


Planting


There are many different methods of planting. Some people prefer single or double rows and others prefer to plant in beds of four to six rows of plants. We plant in raised bed of five rows, with about an eight inch spacing between the plants and the rows. We fertilize moderately with alfafa pellets and fishbone meal. The cloves are generally pushed about two inches into the soil, and then an additional inch or so of soil is raked over the beds.


It is important to plant the cloves with the basal end down, as this is the area from which the roots grow. Garlic will grow regardless of the orientation of the clove when planted, but usually upside down cloves result in smaller bulbs being harvested, as it requires more of the plants energy to grow in a less efficient manner. Hardneck garlic is generally easy to tell which way is up as the top of the clove is usually pointy. Some Rocamboles and Softnecks need to be examined closely to determine which way is up.


Mulching


In our area, we mulch with about four inches of grass hay. This is mainly for frost protection and temperature moderation. We are currently testing removing the mulch for the growing season. Some growers leave the mulch on throughout the entire growing season, which can be beneficial for moisture retention and weed suppression.


Mulching with grain straw is not recommended, as it can introduce wheat curl mite to your field, which will attack garlic.

 


Recordkeeping

The importance of keeping detailed records and planting maps cannot be overemphasized. It is very easy to mix up varieties or lose track of which variety is planted where. Redundancy is key to keeping it all organized. We keep a field map as we plant and also label each variety in the bed with labeled stakes at each end of every variety planted. Use a good fadeproof permanent marker to label the stakes.


Record keeping is crucial through all phases of production. Once you lose track of a variety, it's just garlic, nice to eat, but hard to sell.


Weeding

Garlic does not compete well with weeds. It is important to keep weeds to a minimum. This can be done by mulching, hand weeding, or mechanical weeding. Care must be taken not to damage the plant when removing weeds. Damage can result in disease being introduced, and will lower the quality of your product if you are selling it.


Watering

Garlic requires even soil moisture during the growing season, If you do not receive adequate rainfall then irrigation will be required. In our climate we usually water for two to three weeks after cutting scapes, and then allow the garlic to start to dry before harvest. Over-watering will decrease the keeping qualities of your crop.


Scapes

Scapes are produced by all Hardneck garlic and sometimes a weak scape can be produced by Softneck garlics when their growing conditions are stressed. Generally the scape is removed from the plant so that all the plants energy can be put into making a larger bulb. However, not all varieties respond in the same way to this treatment. The scape is generally removed after it has had time to make one or two loops, but before it starts to uncoil and stand up. Weakly bolting varieties, Turbans in particular, do best when the scape is left on until near harvest.


Bulbils

If bulbils are desired to propagate more garlic, leave the scape intact on the plant, and delay harvest of those plants until the capsule is starting to break open. Harvest the bulbils separately in order to keep them free from soil. At this stage, these bulbs are usually too mature to sell but should be fine to keep for planting.


Harvesting

Different varieties of garlic have different harvest requirements. Most hardnecks are ready for harvest when they have about five leaves that are still green. The weakly bolting and softnecks should be harvested when the plants are still standing upright, not laying down like onions.


We dig our garlic by hand with flat-bladed shovels. Simply pulling the garlic without loosening the soil will likely damage the bulb. Garlic goes immediately from the field to the drying shed to minimize its exposure to intense sunlight.


Once again, I must stress the importance of keeping track of your varieties. Tie-on labels on each string of drying garlic are a must.


Drying and Curing


We like to hang our garlic in a shady place to dry. It helps if there is a breeze. Gently remove large clumps of dirt from the roots. Leave the roots on as they help to moderate drying. In our climate it usually takes about two weeks for the garlic to be dry enough to be cleaned.


Cleaning

When the wrappers are dry, it is time to clean your garlic for seed, sale, or your own use. Roots are usually trimmed off, leaving about a half inch of root on the bulb. Tops are cut off; leaving a stem that is about two inches long. Dirty and damaged outer bulb wrappers are removed, and then bulbs are graded for quality and size.