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Growing Tips: Garlic - Megen Toaldo, Sales Associate  


Organic Garlic Growing TipsAromatic, flavorful and healthful – there are hundreds of garlic varieties, but they all fall into two basic categories: hardneck or softneck.   Softneck varieties are best grown in warmer climates.  They tend to have a stronger flavor, a larger number of smaller cloves per bulb, and a longer shelf life.  The stems are more pliable and are therefore more suitable for braiding.   Hardneck varieties, categorized by their hard, woody stem, tend to have a milder flavor, with larger, but fewer cloves per bulb.  Most hardneck varieties don’t store as long, but are hardier in colder climates.  While these tendencies are a good guide, there are exceptions to the rules.  For instance, if you are in a cold climate, looking for a robust flavored hardneck variety with good shelf life, our German Extra Hardy is an excellent choice.  If you are in a warm climate, and would like to try a hardneck variety, you will find your best success with our Chesnok Red.

Once you’ve chosen your variety, you will want to figure out how much to plant and when to plant it.  Garlic bulbs generally yield anywhere from 4 to 8 times their weight at harvest, but vary based on the variety and growing conditions.  When to plant depends greatly on where you live.  In northern climates, garlic is best planted in the fall.  The cloves should be given enough time to develop a root system without producing top growth.  In southern climates, garlic should be planted in early spring, although the seed garlic must be chilled first in order to break dormancy.  It is planted in late February or March after the threat of winter cold damage has passed. 

Now it is time to prepare your soil for planting.  Garlic prefers loose, loamy soil with lots of organic matter.  The bulbs should be separated just before planting, leaving their protective papery layer in tact.  You will want to plant your largest cloves, while keeping aside the smaller ones for fresh eating, drying or pickling.  If you are planning to mulch, plant each clove 2 inches beneath the soil with its basal root end down and its pointed tip up.  Without mulch, the cloves should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep.  Allow for 4 to 6 inches between cloves and 18 to 24 inches between rows to produce the largest bulbs.  Some folks have success with tighter spacing.  This tends to yield a larger number of smaller bulbs equaling a higher total weight per square foot of garden space. 

While it is not recommended in wet climates, mulching your garlic can be very beneficial. This is especially true in cold climates where a good, thick layer of mulch will help protect your garlic against winterkill.  Most people use straw, hay, or plastic mulch.  The mulch helps to moderate the soil temperature through freezing and thawing, and also helps conserve moisture, while at the same time keeping the weed competition low.

In the spring, your garlic tops will poke up through the mulch and begin their growth spurt.  If it is a cool spring, and garlic is off to a slow start, you can remove some of the mulch, but be sure to leave a decent layer in order to preserve the mulch’s benefits.   Hardneck varieties will produce a tall, curling flower stalk called a scape.  These scapes should be cut to encourage the plant to concentrate its energy into producing a larger bulb.  Scapes are edible and delicious and can be enjoyed steamed or in stir-fries. 

Garlic does best when soil moisture remains fairly even, but prefers a dry spell for 2 to 3 weeks prior to harvest.  Too much moisture towards the end will encourage mold.  Once about half of the bottom leaves have died down, usually mid-late summer, it likely is time for harvest.  You may want to inspect a couple of bulbs first, as browning leaves are a good indicator, but only an approximation of maturity.  Harvest your bulbs by loosening the soil with a shovel or fork and pull the plants up by hand. 

For fresh eating, enjoy your garlic any time after harvest, although, if you plan to store your garlic, it must be cured first.  Cure garlic in a dimly lit area with plenty of airflow for 2 to 3 weeks after harvest.  After the curing process is complete, you can braid your softneck garlic or trim the stems of your hardneck varieties to about an inch above the bulb.  Store your garlic where it continues to have plenty of airflow with optimal temperatures being between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit with 65-70% humidity.  Well-cured and well-stored garlic keeps from 6-12 months depending on the variety, so that you can enjoy your harvest all winter long. 


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