Garlic (Allium Sativum) are related to onions. They are divided into two types: hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks produce a flower stalk that grows up between the cloves clustered around the bottom of the stem. This makes them difficult to braid and shortens the shelf life. However, hardneck varieties are often recommended for growing in cold climates. Hardnecks are divided into groups such as ‘purple stripes’ and ‘rocamboles’. Shortneck types are divided into groups such as ‘artichokes’ and ‘silverskins.’
In milder climates, such as California, where there are major garlic growing operations, the softneck varieties, with their longer shelf life and ability to form more cloves, are grown. The softnecks are what is usually sold in the grocery store. Grocery store garlic may be treated to keep it from sprouting, so using store-bought garlic as a source for bulbs is usually a bad idea. A great source for bulbs is a local farmer’s market. You can bet a local farmer is growing a garlic variety adapted to your area. Other sources for bulbs are on-line or a local ranch and farm supply. Choose bulbs with the biggest cloves to grow the biggest bulbs.
You will plant individual cloves that multiply over the winter and spring, so each bulb of cloves will be separated into cloves for planting. One pound of bulbs or cloves will plant a 25 foot row if planted 6 inches apart. Do not pull the cloves from the bulbs until a day before planting to prevent drying. Store bulbs in a paper or mesh bag in a cool pantry. The best temperature for storage is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not store garlic bulbs in the refrigerator in a hot storage room.
Garlic is planted in the fall, no later than two weeks before the first average frost date. Clear an area of all weeds and work in a 2 inch layer of well-rotted compost. Garlic requires fertile well-drained soil. You need to break up the soil to a depth of 18 inches and add more compost if you are planting in tight clay. If you haven’t gardened in the space for a while, it pays to get a soil test to find out what other amendments are needed for best garlic production. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels should be moderate. The pH of the soil needs to be between 5 and 7. A pH level of 6.5 is ideal.
Plant the cloves 2 to 3 inches deep measuring from the base of the clove. The pointed end of the clove must be pointed up for good bulb formation. About three weeks after planting, spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch over the planting area. You can use straw, hay or shredded bark mulch such as cedar or oak. Be sure it is placed loosely over the planting area so the new growth can easily push its way through. Mulch protects the bulbs during the winter and encourages earthworm activity that keeps the soil loose. In colder areas, you can remove the mulch layer once growth appears in the spring to make the soil warm up faster and encourage faster growth.
Once you water the bulbs after planting, only apply water if the weather is unusually dry until spring when the first green shoots begin to appear. Fungal and mildew problems will occur if you apply too much water while the bulbs are forming underground. After the green tops are actively growing, apply water regularly so the soil stays barely moist, but not wet. Begin to withhold water when the bottom of the stalks begins to turn brown. This tells you bulb formation is almost complete.
The bulbs are ready to harvest when the bottom 75 percent of the green stalk is brown. They will usually fall over when they are ready. This occurs in late spring or early summer. Shake off the dirt, and spread the bulbs spread in a single layer in a warm brightly lit and well-ventilated location. You can also bunch them together by the stems and hang them up. Do not wash garlic bulbs. Any excess dirt can be brushed off by hand once they are dry in about three weeks. If necessary, only remove the dirtiest outer wrapper layers because they keep the garlic fresh. Set aside the biggest bulbs for planting the following fall. Properly stored bulbs will last up to 8 months.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Gober is a gardening writer, farmer, florist and landscaper from Central Texas. His gardening articles appear across the Internet and in numerous periodicals. He is a Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional and Master Gardener. His website is www.biglump.com