How to grow garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and, it is frost tolerant. Can be planted in almost any climate. Beyond its intense flavor and culinary uses, is good as an insect rabbit and deer repellent and used for centuries as a home remedy.

Soil Preparation

Ensure soil is well-drained with plenty of organic matter and full sun. Test soil pH using a test kit, you can purchase in a garden shop. Garlic does best in a soil with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2.

Planting

Garlic can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked, but fall planting is better for most gardeners. We are growing Superior garlic in Northern Wisconsin, USDA zone 4/3a, were the winter temperatures get down to -30 (F). Fall planting will yield larger bulbs and more flavor when you harvest the next summer. In areas that get a hard frost, plant after the first hard frost.

Choose for cloves planting that are firm and consistent in color through the clove. with no soft spots or discoloration. A single clove will produce one bulb of garlic

Place cloves 6 to 8 inches apart and with the top of the clove 2 to 3 inches deep, in their upright position “pointed end up”. We plant in raised beds to insure proper drainage. Break apart cloves from bulb a few days before planting. Keep the papery husk on each individual clove, this helps protect the clove from disease. We soak the cloves to be planted for 24 hours in a fish emulsion/water solution to give them a nitrogen boost. Then soak them in Vodka for 15 to 20 min just prior to planting. This is an insurance method to kill any bacteria/disease that may be present.

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We have found that garlic that is purchased from a climate similar to yours acclimate faster to your garden.

In the spring, as warmer temperatures come, shoots will emerge through the ground. Do not plant cloves from the grocery store. They may be treated to make their shelf life longer which reduce the germination rate. Get cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery.

Seed garlic and culinary garlic are the very same thing. You can plant any of our garlic, and you can eat any of it, too.  Growers look for the largest cloves, and they seek out the largest bulbs available. In home kitchens, on the other hand, cooks often prefer smaller cloves to more easily control the amount of garlic in each dish. Most growers will charge a premium for larger garlic.

This year we got a hard frost then it stayed too warm for a month. This caused the garlic to sprout through the ground. I prefer that the ground freezes within 3 weeks of planting so the sprouts don’t come up.

However, the unseasonable warm fall weather didn’t seem to harm the garlic. The shoots that came through the ground before it froze in the fall but it survived fine. One added benefit of the warm fall was that the garlic had extra time to get its roots established. I dug up some garlic after the ground froze and the roots where 3” long. In previous years when the ground freezes on time, “earlier” the roots have been about 1”. I hope this results in larger garlic. I will let you know how this turned out after harvest.

Mulch

Northern gardeners should mulch heavily with straw before the ground freezes. We put 4 to 6 inches of well fluffed straw on the beds. You may want to remove some of the mulch in the spring after the threat of frost has passed if it is to thick for the sprouts to emerge.

Care

Weeds must be eradicated we have found garlic size is substantially reduced if you do not remove weeds. On more than one occasion we let the weeds get out of control in a portion of our field and the bulb size in that area of the field was smaller. Keep mulch on the beds to reduce the weeding.

Water about 1” per week during bulbing (mid-May through June).

Fertilizing

Garlic requires adequate levels of nitrogen. Fertilize accordingly, especially if you see yellowing leaves. We use only organic nitrogen fertilizers like: Blood Meal, Bone Meal, Corn Meal, and Fish Emulsion.

Do not apply slow activating nitrogen sources after early spring. Nitrogen enhances the foliage growth. If it is applied to late in the bulbing stage of garlic, which is from June to August it will decrease the size of the bulb.

If we need to apply nitrogen after April but before June in our area we use foliage feed source like Fish Emulsion or soluble kelp. My favorite foliage feed is a mixture of Fish Emulsion, soluble kelp, and blackstrap molasses.

Scapes

Garlic Scapes:  Is the curly top of the (hardneck varities), in about June, expect to see a tall scape unfurling up from the garlic. We have found that removing these results in bigger bulbs. When sniped off more energy can go to producing a larger bulb. The Scape eventually turns into a flower that procures bulblis.

I wait until the scapes are 8-12″ long and curl one full loop, then snip them off.  They are superbly edible. We use them like onion chives.  Great in stir fries or grilled with asparagus. Also make great pesto. Whether you trim the scapes or let them keep growing is your preference. We like to stir fry scapes and grill them with asparagus. Gives any dish a spicy kick! We have even made green eggs with scapes.

wisconsin-garlic-scapes scape-eggs

Harvest/Storage

Harvest when ½ the leafs are dying and yellow/brown, before they are completely dry. In Northern climates, harvesting will probably be in late July or August. Check the bulb size and wrapper, if you dig too early the bulb will be small, if you harvest to late the bulbs will begin to bust out of there skins.

Discontinue watering two weeks before harvest. To harvest, carefully lift the bulbs with a spade or pitch fork. Pull the plants, carefully brush off the soil. Large commercial growers use bed lifters or potato diggers to harvest. As of last year we still used a pitch fork for 20,000 plants. I like handling each plant to insure it is up to our standards.

Cure in an airy, shady spot for two to 6 weeks. We tie bunches of 10 on both ends of a length of twine and hang over a board so either bunch hangs at a different height. The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry. You will be able to crack cloves apart easily.

When the garlic bulbs are dry, you can store them. Remove any dirt and trim off any roots or leaves. Cut the stems of leaving 1”to 2” of stem. Keep the wrappers on—but remove the dirtiest wrappers. Be sure to store allowing adequate ventilation. One way to do this is to hang in net bags. Store in a cool, dark, dry place, and can be kept in the same way for several months. Hardneck garlic will store 4 to 7 months depending on the variety, and storage conditions. The flavor will increase as the bulbs are dried.

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