(from Irish Eyes Garden City seeds www.irish-eyes.com)
WHEN TO PLANT: Garlic survives bitterly cold winters underground (or grows frost-hardy
leaves where winters are mild to moderate), grows rapidly when the
weather warms in spring, and bulbs in summer. In the North, plant 4-6
weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to make good
root development but not enough time to make leaf growth. Where winters
are milder, garlic is planted from October through January. Where
winters are so severe or snow cover so unreliable that garlic freezes
out, soft-neck varieties are planted in spring.
SOIL PREPARATION: Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter so the soil
remains light through the long growing season. Growers with clay soils
should add a lot of compost before planting; those blessed with lighter
soils having naturally loose texture need to add only small amounts of
organic matter, or grow and till in green manures prior to planting.
HOW TO PLANT: Break the bulb into individual cloves. Small cloves usually grow small
bulbs, so plant only the larger ones. Use the small cloves in your
kitchen. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch deep, root side
down; where winter is severe, put them 2-4 inches deep and mulch
lightly, immediately after planting. In spring, the garlic will have no
trouble pushing through an inch of mulch. Minimum spacing on raised
beds is 4x8 inches. To grow the largest bulbs, try spacing your plants
GROWING: After garlic has over wintered it must be kept well weeded. Do not
damage the shallow roots when cultivating. Garlic needs to be
moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in spring. Organic
gardeners can side-dress a little chicken manure, cottonseed meal or
strong compost. Garlic also likes high-nitrogen foliar fertilizer,
sprayed every ten days to two weeks. Once bulbing begins, fertilizing
is useless, maybe even harmful to getting the best quality bulbs. While
the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil most as you would for any
other leafy green like lettuce or spinach.
SEED STALKS: Hard-neck varieties put up a tall, woody flowering stalk that usually
grows bulblets at the top. But if the plant is allowed to put its
energy into these seeds, the bulb forming below the ground will end up
smaller. So we cut seed stalks off as soon as the flower head has
reached 8-9 inches tall.
HARVEST: Gauging the right time to harvest is very important. Dug
too soon, the skins won’t have formed around each clove. Hard-neck
bulbs, if dug too late, may have begun to spread apart in the soil.
Each year the timing is a little different so rather than watch the
calendar, we observe the plants. As the bulbs mature the outer leaves
turn brown. This indicates that the papery shell is forming. When
there are still 5-6 green leaves remaining on the plant, we dig and
examine a plant every few days to check the bulb. In very good
garlic ground (very fluffy soil) the plants might be pulled by hand,
but it is usually better to loosen the soil first with a spading fork.
Immediately brush off the soil from around the roots, but do this
gently. Drying is the essential part of curing the bulbs so do not wash
them in water. Immediately move the newly dug garlic out of direct
CURING: Some growers tie the plants by their leaves or stalks in loose bundles
of 8-12 plants and hang them under cover. Others spread the plants in
single layers on screens, drying racks, or slatted shelves. Garlic
stores longer if its is cured with its stalk or leaves attached. Good
air circulation is absolutely essential. The plants should cure from 3
weeks to 2 months, depending on the humidity and amount of air
circulation. Some growers use a fan in the curing shed. After curing,
you may trim the roots. If the garlic is to be kept in sacks, cut the
stalks off 1/2-inch above the bulb and gently clean the bulbs with a
soft bristle brush, taking care not to strip off the papery skin.
STORING: Hang bulbs in netted sacks, with good air circulation on all sides. Or,
hang the dried bunches, or make and hang braids of the soft-neck types.
Perfect storage conditions are 45-55°F. at 50% Relative Humidity.
Storage below 40°F. actually makes garlic sprout.