Note: This is a guest post from the wonderful Tessa at Homestead Lady. She’s got some great tips here on fueling your garlic habit by growing your own – but her blog and Facebook page are chock full of plenty of other tips, tricks, and homestead ventures. Tell her we sent you!
Raise your hand if you don’t like garlic.
Yeah, I don’t know people like that.
The first question to answer when you’re contemplating growing your own garlic is why you would want to grow your own? Costco carries large bag of whole, California garlic bulbs for a reasonable price, and if you’re into local and/or organic, you can find those, too, at your local whole foods grocer or farmers stand. Why bother?
Well, you’re a gardener and that’s what you do – grow stuff in your dirt so that you don’t have to buy it at the store. What if there’s a trucking strike or the Rapture starts or zombies attack and garlic isn’t available in stores? I mean, its not like you can actually live without garlic, so you want to be prepared. Besides, if you grow your own, you can try out all kinds of awesome varieties like spicy Asians and creamy Germans that just aren’t available in most stores. Trust me, you’re gonna love growing your own.
The next question to answer then is, what kind of garlic should you plant? Well, there are two kinds of garlic – soft neck varieties and hard neck varieties. So, uh, what’s the difference between soft neck and hard neck garlic?
Grow Organic has a great article that answers that question, but the bottom line is that soft neck varieties are the ones you’re most familiar with, as they’re the ones usually found in the grocery store. Soft necks have a mild flavor and have stems soft enough to braid in that picturesque way you often see dangling in Tuscan kitchens. Hard neck garlic has harder stems that send up flower heads (actually, they produce small bulbs) called scapes, which you can harvest and cook up like spicy green onions. In fact, you really want to harvest those scapes to increase the size of your bulbs, like Granny Miller recommends. Hard necks store for less time (still 6-10 months, and that’s pretty long) than soft necks, which store upwards of a year. There are a lot more varieties of hard neck garlic, though, so you can really play around until you find one you love.
Planting Tips & Tricks
Soft neck garlic varieties prefer a more mild climate in general, but with some deep mulch you can grow either kind of garlic in pretty much any place. Here are a few general tips for growing garlic, but I encourage you to read, read, read from many sources.
• You plant garlic in the fall, before the ground gets truly cool, in order to harvest it the next fall. That means, you need a space in your garden dedicated to your garlic crop for a whole year. I usually use one whole 8′ x 4′ garden box for my garlic growing, but I cook with it A LOT. If you only use a bit of fresh garlic throughout the year and/or you aren’t sure about this whole garlic growing venture, try a few cloves in a small patch and see if you like what happens.
• You plant one clove and it becomes a whole bulb full of cloves. Sweet.
• You can plant garlic from the store; bear in mind that it’s most likely a soft neck variety. BUT, there are so many cool varieties from garden catalogs and garlic houses like Hood River that once you try them, you’ll be hooked and ditch the grocery store stuff.
• To plant the garlic, you simply pull apart the cloves of garlic from the bulb with care, leaving them in their papery casings, and plant each clove bum side down in the garden. The bottom is the flat (not pointy) end. Trust me, roots will sprout.
• When planting multiple varieties of garlic, make sure you mark where each kind is located in your grow bed. I have five small children who like to help me garden, and sometimes that help includes moving my garden tags, thereby rendering me completely ignorant of specific types of anything! Some garlics you can tell apart from each other, but I’ve had as many as six different varieties in one year, so I don’t want to risk losing my markings. Last time, I wrote on the side of my raised bed with a permanent garden marker; it lasted until harvest, which is all I needed, and eventually faded. I think I’ll do that this year and see if it works for me again.
• Garlic likes to eat and drink, so make sure you have a nicely prepared grow bed with lots of organic material to hold nutrients and moisture. Like all alliums (that great onion family), garlic doesn’t want to get water logged, so pay attention. For larger, nicely developed bulbs, feed your garlic several times during the growing season. There are standard, conventional foods or you can use organic options like composted chicken manure (that’s what we use on our homestead).
• Last piece of advice: you can do it! Here’s a real person’s experience with growing garlic in the garden, from Schneider Peeps.