By Carol Anderson, Master Gardener in Training
Unlike many of our more tender vegetable and herb favorites, garlic prefers to spend the winter “contemplating” spring from a safe and protected spot in your outdoor garden bed. And the good news is that the timing is perfect – planting garlic in October, after the first frost (or two), is ideal for ensuring a healthy crop of garlic that will be ready for harvest the following summer (usually mid to end of July).
The reason for this is that garlic is considered a “winter annual” and exposure to the cold temperatures ensures proper bulb development. The cold of winter, also known as vernalization, prompts the clove to break open after a period of dormancy. However, the garlic cloves that you plant (also called “seed stock”) must be planted to the correct:
- Depth: to ensure that they are insulated from extreme or harsh conditions, and
- Distance: to ensure that the stock has enough room to multiply into large and healthy buds.
What you will need:
-garlic seed stock (*see special note)
-leaves or hay (as mulch)
-pen and paper
- Condition your Soil. Although garlic will grow in many soil types, adding 2 inches of compost and working this into your soil is recommended. A soil that can hold nutrients and water easily (making them available to your plants) will improve your overall yield.
- Split the garlic bulb into the seeds while trying to keep as much of the soft shell on each of the cloves.
- Make a “map” of your garlic field on the ground with either toothpicks or the end of your trowel marking where each garlic “seed” will be placed. It is recommended that each seed (clove) is planted ~6” apart and ~4” deep in rows that are 10” apart. (Note: the clove should be planted to a depth that is 4 X the length of the clove – e.g. 4” for a 1” clove).
- Place the clove with the pointy side up in the 4” deep hole and cover gently with soil.
- Make a paper “map” of your garlic field so that you remember where each garlic bulb will be growing in the Spring.
- Cover our garlic field with 12-18” of leaf or straw mulch.
Growing and Harvesting Recommendations:
- In the Spring, you may need to remove or refresh the mulch. It is recommended to keep the garlic field mulched with a few inches of mulch to keep the moisture in and reduce weed growth.
- Using a standard garden hoe, weed frequently between the rows to uproot any early weed growth.
- Most garlic varieties produce a garlic “scape” – a thin curly green end of the plant. If the scape is left on the plant, energy will go to flower formation, instead of bulb growth. Remove the scape immediately after it has curled (see below) by cutting or snapping it off (see Special Note below).
- Harvest the garlic by using a garden fork or spade – loosen the soil 4-6 inches around the bulb and then lift the entire plant with bulb attached gently from the soil. (Note: garlic is usually ready to harvest in July when some of the leaves have begun to turn brown. Leaving them too long will allow decay. It is recommended, however, that during a moist summer a “test” is done by digging up a bulb before the leaves start to brown to avoid premature decay).
- Tie 5-10 garlic bulbs together in a bunch with garden twine/hemp and hang to dry/cure for 2-3 weeks in a dry well-ventilated area.
- Cut the dried garlic stem close to the bulb using garden cutters and remove the dried roots close to the bulb using kitchen scissors. Store the bulbs in a cold cellar or cool dark location for later use (never in the refrigerator), keeping as much of the sheath/covering of the bulb intact as possible. Garlic can be stored for up to one year in the right conditions.
–Garlic Stock: Do not use imported garlic purchased from the grocery store as this could introduce unwanted diseases into your garden. Garlic stock (or seed garlic) can be purchased from local growers near you….and the good news…once you grow your own…you will have an endless supply of “stock” acclimatized to your own growing conditions.
–Spring Planting: Garlic can be planted in the spring. However, you must keep your “stock” in cold storage prior to spring planting to ensure that the bulbs experience a prolonged cold period to stimulate flowering/bulb development.
–Garlic Scapes are not garden waste, they are delicious in salad…and they make a deliciously potent pesto!!!! Try this garlic pesto recipe out.
Garlic Growers of Ontario
Garlic Growers Association – Toronto Garlic Festival
The Old Farmer’s Almanac