Heirloom Expert: How to Grow Garlic

After discovering organic garlic, a person was intrigued to grow garlic themselves. Here’s what first-timers need to know about growing garlic.

  • At harvest time, the bulbs should pull out easily by grabbing the base of the stalk, but sometimes will require the use of a garden fork. The bulbs will store better if you leave the stalks on.
    Photo by Doug Oster

I discovered “real” garlic while visiting a farmer’s market. I was amazed at the difference between it and store bought. Can I grow my own?

Welcome to the wonderful world of garlic! And yes, it’s a great crop for home gardeners. Be careful though; once you’ve joined the club it can be addictive. I’m a garlic fanatic and while recently appearing on a local PBS cooking show, I told the host I should have titled my Tomatoes Garlic Basil book, Garlic and Other Stuff.

Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow with few pest or disease problems. It’s best planted in the fall, but the real trick is to find the right garlic. You can’t start with something from the store—it’s probably not hardy and often times are treated with something which stops the cloves from sprouting. Sometimes local grocery stores will carry varieties grown locally. You can save a little money if you can find something locally grown which is sold as food instead of seed. They are both the same thing. I buy my garlic from a nursery or from an online supplier. Baker Creek offers some of my favorite varieties.

The next most important thing is to improve the soil. Compost is king when it comes to garlic, and covering a bed with this organic soil amendment will go a long way to producing large bulbs. If you don’t have your own compost pile (and you should), it’s available from nurseries by the bag or truckload.

In my Zone 6 garden, the garlic is planted around the second week of October, under the dark of the moon. That doesn’t mean at night, that’s the moon phase. That’s the way I was taught to do it and it works. I’ve also planted a month before and after with great results too. The bulb is separated into cloves. Each of them will grow through the winter and spring to produce another bulb. The biggest cloves are planted and the rest go to the kitchen. It’s my experience that the bigger the clove, the bigger the bulb at harvest time. I like to plant them 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Some gardeners like more space between plants; experiment and see what works best for you.

The bed is covered with a thick layer of straw, usually around 8 to 12 inches. Don’t skip this step! Last year the east had the worst winter in two decades which devastated garlic that wasn’t mulched. Mine looked great in the spring. The mulch will compress a bit during the season and will help keep weeds down in the spring. Garlic resents competition, so keep weeds at bay by pulling and adding more mulch in the spring. Early in the spring, the greens will push through the straw in consort with the crocus. They are the most wonderful seasonal treat. I love picking the fat center sprout and eating it raw in the garden. Harvest the greens sparingly; they provide energy to the bulb.

9/6/2019 12:41:33 PM

I have planted garlic every year for the past 10 years....last year was the 1st time I had a problem with rats in the garden so I was thinking of planting in 5 gallon buckets this fall...any suggestions...I live in Buffalo NY which is a 6A planting zone.

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