Garlic touts many health benefits and is therefore worth growing yourself. As these tips will show, growing garlic is relatively easy to achieve with the proper care.
Garlic will grow in most types of soil, but does best in a deep, sandy loam. In poorly drained soils, grow them on ridges. It needs a sunny location and will not crop properly with less than six hours of sunlight a day.
- The soil should be reasonably fertile, but adding manure before planting is not recommended, although well-rotted compost will help to improve the soil structure.
- On poor soils, apply a light dressing of blood meal before planting. Since garlic is subject to the same pests and diseases that attack onions, do not grow them in soil that grew onions the previous year.
Garlic is a biennial, but will act like a perennial since the new cloves will grow the following year. Commercially, it is divided into soft-neck and hard-neck types.
- Soft-neck produces many smaller cloves around a soft central stalk while hard-neck has fewer, larger cloves and a stiffer central stem.
- Hard-neck is the better type for growing in cooler regions.
- The individual cloves of either type are planted and will grow to form complete bulbs.
Garlic grown in a different climatic region will not produce as well as that grown locally. Garlic is normally planted in the fall and is a crop for regions that have a cool winter since it needs a cold period of at least one month when the temperature is around or below freezing to grow properly.
In regions where winters are cold and there is little snow cover, or where the soil is very heavy, plant in spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Where the growing season is short, the cloves can be started indoors in individual pots or in cell packs. They should be placed outdoors in a sheltered location to receive the necessary cold period and planted in spring.
1. Planting garlic
- Break the bulbs into individual cloves, discarding any diseased or soft ones. The cloves generally have a flattened region at the base where they were attached to the mother bulb, and are pointed at the top, although with some varieties it may be hard to tell. The bulbs tend to move up in the soil, so it is best to plant them several centimetres/inches deep.
- Space them 20 centimetres (eight inches) apart in both directions for the highest yield, or plant in rows 25 to 30 centimetres (10 to 12 inches) apart with eight to 10 centimetres (three to four inches) between the cloves.
- In cold regions, cover the garlic with a layer of straw or salt hay about 15 centimetres (six inches) deep. This can stay on as mulch the following spring.
2. Tending and harvesting garlic
Garlic has a shallow root system and weeds should be pulled by hand, rather than being hoed out, although with a good straw mulch there should not be many weeds. Water during prolonged droughts. Pick off the flower spikes as they develop; they can be cooked and eaten. The flavour is that of a mild onion. In late summer, when the garlic foliage starts to turn yellow, lift the bulbs, handling them gently to avoid bruising.
- Trim off the roots with a sharp knife and peel off the outside, dirty layer of leaves to show a clean, white layer.
- Lay the bulbs out in an airy location — but out of direct sunlight — to dry for a few days.
- Store them under cover while the stems and leaves dry.
- Once the tops are dry, cut them off a little above the bulb and store in a cool, dry location to keep the bulbs from sprouting.