Brown Thumb? Learn How to Grow Garlic

how to grow garlicSo we made it to February in one piece on our little homestead. Of course, a scan of the wood pile means another cord is in order before winter ends, and that means stacking in 20 degree weather, but that's not a problem. Our plans include some fiddly projects outside, including checking the garden for the mulch over our garlic bed. We learned how to grow garlic on our old urban homestead spread, and are excited to see what we get here in our first full sun garden.

There's still snow on the ground, and the polar vortex has passed us by, dragging behind it a warm front that will be a nice change. A little time in the garden to start off the season will do us a world of good. In fact, I think it's time to start looking at our seedling setup.

How to Grow Garlic

how to grow garlic
If I remember right, we started garlic late a couple years ago, a little after the first frost. It was our first time and lessons were learned. Our bulbs weren't that impressive, but we were able to cull some of the larger ones for planting that next fall. Properly, this time. That second harvest was much better and it encouraged us to keep at it. We go through a lot during the year, so having a bed of our own saves us a good margin on the grocery bills.

Knowing how to grow garlic is a great beginner garden project, as the late season planting doesn't crowd out any other produce. It does it's thing through winter, and in the spring bursts from the ground with tell-tale fragrance. It's magical.

How to Plant Garlic

how to plant garlicWe learned how to plant garlic by watching Youtube. Yep, I said it. The thing is, garlic is the one plant we really work on making our own heritage breed. This means we keep seed garlic after each harvest, the largest bulbs are put aside for planting in late October, just comfortably before the first frost. The idea behind using your own garlic year after year is that the genetics have thrived in a particular garden plot with its unique balance of sunlight, soil temperature and composition. By using the best, we continue to improve our strain. 

Another nice thing is that it's not hard to learn how to grow garlic. Plant single bulbs in dry, well aerated soil about eight inches apart, two inches deep, root-side down, pointy side up. Cover the holes, and spread a 1/2 inch to a full inch of mulch over the bed to protect against hard frosts. In the spring, remove the mulch as soon as possible to let the stalks shoot free.

How Does Garlic Grow

how does garlic grow
So, how does garlic grow, you ask? It's not like you're really using a seed. Instead, you use a handsome clove from a garlic bulb you saved from the year before to encourage it to kind of self-replicate. But not really. Garlic cloves have it in their genes to produce and spread. However, by looking at indicators in the plant's growth cycle, we can arrest that spread and remove the garlic for eating before it has a chance to fulfill its destiny of overrunning the world.

If left in the ground, the garlic bulb will begin to loosen and individual cloves will slough off, each with the genetic drive to create more garlic. Not as big, because now we're looking at natural selection and overcrowding, but it will happen. Mary Mary, quite contrary, how does garlic grow? With abandon.

When to Harvest Garlic

when to harvest garlicKnowing when to harvest garlic can be a tricky notion the first time around, as it doesn't follow the same rules as onions or other bulbs. With onions, you know they're ready when the stalks droop and most of the leaves are brown. You can even leave them in the ground a while if need be. They may look similar to garlic, but the harvesting is markedly different.

With our beauteous little kitchen-destined babies, knowing how to harvest garlic bulbs depends a little on their type, but not that's necessarily a game changer. You can go by time of year as an indicator, though this doesn't take into account your soil conditions or sunlight. We usually harvest in late July, but this is based on the distinct indicators of our varieties.

For the soft neck variety, the best time to harvest is when the lower third of the stalk leaves have started turning brown, while the upper leaves are still green. Its fun to check the raised beds and see if we have any development.

For hard neck garlic, the most popular variety around here due to their hardiness, it's all about the scapes. Scapes are these woody, bolting flower tendrils that come straight up the middle of the stalk. It smells amazing, and when trimmed, add some serious flavor to any soup or stew you care to add it to.

Scapes shoot up about a month before harvesting. Now, no lesson in when to harvest garlic is complete without a lesson on when to cut your scapes. It will occur roughly in mid to late June, and you'll know because they will begin to curl. Trim away and let your bulbs ballon from the added energy. Thirty days from trimming, you can harvest.

How to Harvest Garlic

how to harvest garlic
To harvest, loosen the soil around the bulbs by getting your hands into the dirt. Nimble fingers are the best, as you don't run the risk of damaging the protective leaves around the bulb. Once the bulb is loose from the soil, you can pull it up. Do not pull them by the stalks without loosening the soil first. Garlic puts in a good spread of thin roots and you could potentially lose a few if you're not careful.

Once all of your garlic is out of the garden beds, remove them from direct sunlight to a dry space. If you're feeling fancy, you can braid the stalks and hang them to dry. We're not fancy, so it's an old baker's rack to help the air circulate. A good average is two weeks to cure, and you'll have fresh garlic for the rest of the year.

We truly enjoy sharing our life in the homestead with you all, and would love to know where you learned how to grow garlic. Let us know in the comments section!