How To Grow Garlic
Growing Garlic in the Home Garden In Your Backyard or Garden
Garlic, a member of the allium family, which includes leeks, shallots, and onions, has long been known for its health giving properties, being of benefit from anything from acne to blood clots. Better still it tastes great and is a boon in the home kitchen for a variety of uses. In the U.S., northern California’s mild climate is usually the location of choice for commercial garlic growers. However, other locations can be good too if you choose the appropriate varieties and, what could be better than growing your own garlic in your own home garden?
Garlic plants are basically one of two categories, hardneck garlic or softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic grows a stalk known as a scape and is more suited for northern climes. Hardneck species include, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain. The garlic that you buy in the supermarket however, is most likely a softneck Silverskin variety; the other common softneck variety of garlic is Artichoke. The Silverskin garlic plant is easier to raise, keeps longer, and usually produces more cloves; Artichoke garlic bulbs are coarser than Silverskins and can sometimes have purple blotches.
Ideal soil conditions and planting times
Garlic plants like well-drained soils that also retain moisture, and adding some compost or well-rotted manure before planting is good practice; keep an eye on the phosphorous level of your soil if it susceptible to run-off. You should be aiming for a soil pH of 6-7. If you are in doubt, get a soil test, if the pH is less than 5.8 adding lime can bring it into the ideal garlic growing range. If you are using an all-purpose garden fertilizer a rough rule of thumb is one to two pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden before you plant. Another application of one pound of all-purpose garden fertilizer per 100 square feet in a band around the developing plants about four weeks after they emerge should suffice. In warmer southern areas, plant your garlic in late February or early March. In more northern climes plant your garlic around mid-October or early November; garlic is generally winter hardy. Garlic can be grown from seed but is often better grown from cloves. Each individual clove should produce a bulb containing up to 20 cloves. Plant the cloves upright (pointed side up) about an inch under the soil and around four inches apart; your rows can be around 18 inches apart or you could plant double rows six inches apart on beds centered 30 inches apart.
Your watering will be dependent on your soil type. However, when you do water you need to soak the soil well to a depth of about an inch; stop watering about two weeks before harvesting to avoid staining the bulbs and encouraging disease.
In the U.S. there are 11 plant hardiness zones as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which are also known as growing or climate zones. There is no hard and fast rule that says that one species of plant will necessarily flourish or fail outside of its hardiness zone and it may often be worth an experiment now and again, especially with the climate changing, to go a zone either way now and again. However, the plant hardiness zones are considered to be fairly reliable guidelines.
Weeds, pests, and disease
Garlic and weeds are not compatible; using mulch and shallow cultivation can help but be careful not to disturb the garlic roots, which will be close to the top of the soil, when you are weeding. Pests that you might encounter include:
- Bulb Mites
- Pea Leafminer
- Onion Maggots
- Wheat Curl Mites
There are also a few diseases that may affect your garlic plants:
- Basal Rot
- White Rot
- Downy Mildew
Crop rotation, good quality seeds/cloves, and commercially available products, if you want to use them, will all help.
When to harvest, how to harvest, and how to store your garlic
If you harvest your garlic too early the bulbs may be small, too late and the cloves could be popping from the bulb. Look for when the leaves of the plants turn brown and die away. Pull your plants up with everything attached, carefully knock off any loose soil, and hang them in a dry well-aired place for up to four weeks to cure. Once cured you can cut off the shoots up to one inch above the bulb and trim off the roots to the base of the bulb. For storage, you could braid your garlic bulbs together and hang them in a cool dry place or alternatively put them in a mesh bag and hang it up. If your garlic is properly cured and stored it should keep for up to nine months. Do not forget to plan for your next crop and set aside the largest cloves for planting next season; larger cloves usually mean better plants.