Name one food that you can't live without. Hard to choose just one, isn't it? Near the very top of my list is garlic. The aroma of garlic sauteeing in a pan with olive oil says "Good food lives here" (and no vampires). The only thing better than eating garlic? The satisfaction that comes from growing your own. Read on to learn how to grow garlic.
How to grow garlic in 3 easy steps:
1. Break apart the individual cloves of a garlic bulb a day before planting, then set aside. Be careful to keep the paper-like peels on the individual cloves.
2. The only tool required for planting garlic is your hand. Each clove should be planted a hand's length apart.
Use your thumb to measure how deep to place the clove. Some gardeners use this rule: Plant the clove its own height deep in the ground.
3. Plant pointy end up. That bears repeating (because I always forget): Pointy end up. The roots will grow from the flatter end and the green shoots will sprout from the pointy end.
Like other bulbs that rest in the ground for many months, garlic will appreciate a layer of organic mulch. If you're raking leaves in the fall in a cooler climate, then pile those leaves on top of the garlic bed for mulch. In warmer climates try hay.
So many choices!
Garlic can be broadly classified into two groups--hardneck and softneck. Within the hardneck classification, garlic is further broken down into three types: The Purple Stripe, Porcelain, and Rocambole. Within the softneck classification, garlic is further broken down into two types: Artichoke and Silverskin.
Gardeners in colder climates (i.e. upper Midwest and New England) should plant hard neck varieties because they are hardier and will stand up to cold winters. If, like me, you live in an area that has especially punishing winters, choose either The Purple Stripe or Rocambole. Folks in more moderate climates (i.e. the South and West Coast) should choose a soft neck variety.
Growing garlic in containers
Do you have limited outdoor space? No worries! Try growing garlic in a container.
The container you choose should be at least 10 inches deep.
Even if you have a larger outdoor space, you may want to consider growing garlic in a container because it will reduce the risk of disease and bug infestation.
Should you grow garlic from seed or bulb?
Like most gardeners, I have always grown garlic from a bulb. It's relatively easy to grow, and bulbs are readily available from your local nursery.
Note: Do not grow garlic that you bought in the produce section of the grocery store. They may not be suitable to your growing region, and they may be chemically-treated to maintain a longer shelf life. Only buy garlic bulbs for planting from a reputable online retailer or a local nursery.
Some gardeners are a bit more adventurous than me, and they grow garlic from seed. Here's advice from two such gardeners, Ted Jordan Meredith and Avram Drucker. Here are highlights from their exhaustive guide to growing garlic from seed:
1. Garlic seed has a period of dormancy and should not be planted immediately after harvest. Exposure to a period of cold shortens dormancy. You can mimic an artificial period of moist cold in a refrigerator.
2. Garlic seeds should be given a bleach soak prior to planting to help protect them from contamination, followed by a cold treatment to shorten dormancy. (If you're concerned about using bleach, then try one of these alternatives.) Soak the garlic seeds in a 1% solution of household bleach (1 teaspoon bleach in 2 cups water) for 20 minutes, rinse the seeds, distribute the seeds on moist paper towels, place the seeds in a plastic sack, and store in a refrigerator for approximately four weeks.
3. Planting seeds indoors in late winter offers the best prospect for the seed to develop into the largest possible rounds during the first season of growth.
4. After the refrigerator cold treatment, plant the seeds in trays under artificial lights and cover the trays with a clear plastic dome.
5. As soon as conditions permit, plant the seedlings outside in the ground. Garlic seedlings are quite hardy, but there are limits. Like all plants, garlic seedlings should be hardened-off before transitioning to the outdoors.
When to plant
For gardeners in colder climates, plant garlic in the fall before the ground freezes. Ideally this will be 6-8 weeks before hard frost. Gardeners in warmer areas should plant in February or March.
Grow garlic in well-tilled soil that is amended with organic compost and/or manure. Using a rich soil should alleviate the need for fertilizing the soil while the garlic is in the ground. However, if you have some extra compost hanging around, by all means add it!
Because of its natural pest control, garlic is not as heavily sprayed as other produce (phew!). Nevertheless, when growing at home I always opt for organic growing practices because of their greater environmental impact. Finding organic garlic bulbs at my local nursery is great, but if I only see conventionally grown bulbs I don't freak out as much as with other seeds or bulbs.
photo of garlic scapes via Shutterstock
Garlic scape glory!
Garlic scapes are like a "freebie" that the garlic plant offers you along with the promise that it's happily growing underground.
Scapes are the bright green chive-like shoots that pop up from the garlic bulb. They look like a little green elf hat.
You definitely want to harvest them because they are a fabulous addition to stir fry, sandwich spreads, and pesto. Another benefit of harvesting is so that they don't take growing energy away from the garlic bulb. But don't be too hasty with the garden shears, leaving some scapes on the bulb will help its overall health and viability.
photo of garlic via Shutterstock
Harvest when the shoots start to turn yellow-brown and wither. Gently remove the bulbs from the ground and brush off any excess soil.
Once it's harvested, store the garlic in a dry, cool spot. A garage, barn, or garden shed work nicely. The easiest way to store garlic at home is in mesh bags or loosely woven baskets.
Garlic keeps longest when stored at 60 to 65 degrees and in moderate humidity, which can be a challenge because most homes are too dry.
You can store garlic in the crisper drawer of your fridge, but be aware that once garlic has been in the cold, it will start sprouting within days after being brought to room temperature. So if you store it this way, keep it in the fridge until just before you're ready to use it.
Leftover peeled cloves or chopped garlic can be stored for a couple of weeks in the fridge in a small, tightly covered container, but this method is not a good option for long-term storing.
You can freeze garlic, though some people think frozen garlic isn't quite as good as fresh. Pulse garlic with a little water in a food processor and freeze in ice cube trays.
Recipes that celebrate garlic
Congratulations! You've successfully grown garlic. Now, celebrate it by serving up these scrumptious recipes:
bulgar wheat photo via Ally Jane
I love this recipe for bulgar wheat with black garlic and edamame because it also features edamame.
photo of naan via Ally Jane
Who doesn't love naan? I love this recipe because it celebrates garlic.
photo of hummus via Ally Jane
Have you successfully grown garlic? Share your tips on our Facebook page or Tweet at us @organicauthority.
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photo of garlic on table via Shutterstock