Garlic is a staple in most kitchens, and ours is no exception! This pungent little bulb adds flavour to so many different dishes, and if you ask me you can never have too much;)
It also supports good overall health and immunity and can be used to treat various illnesses and ailments including colds and flu, bacterial infections (garlic is a natural antibiotic), yeast infections, heart problems and high blood pressure.
Garlic is also packed with cancer fighting compounds and is said to be one of the best foods to help prevent and lower the risk of cancer. Talk about a superfood!
In the garden, garlic helps ward off pests and fungus reducing any need for chemical sprays. It’s also one of the easiest plants to grow, and while it does typically need as much time in the ground as a baby needs in the womb before it’s ready for harvest, it requires very little effort to grow and maintain.
Before I dive into the details, here is a quick checklist to help you get growing at home:
Garlic Grower’s Checklist
- Select good, local seed garlic to plant at home. Do not plant garlic from the store as it may be treated. Only plant untreated organic garlic in your home garden.
- Plant in October for a July harvest for best results. If you missed the October planting and want to plant in the spring, plant as soon as the soil can be worked but expect a smaller harvest.
- Plant garlic cloves root side down (pointy side up). Plant cloves about 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep.
- Water and mulch to help keep them moist and insulated over the winter.
- Hardneck varieties will produce garlic scapes around June. Both hardneck and softneck varieties are ready for harvest in mid to late July.
- To cure, lay garlic out on some screen, wire or mesh to allow good air flow on all sides. Keep out of direct sunlight. Allow to cure and dry for several weeks.
- Store in a cool, dry place and use all year round for your culinary and health needs!
How to Grow Garlic At Home
October is the best time of year to get your garlic in the ground if you want to enjoy a harvest the following summer. While it is possible to plant in the spring and still get a harvest, you will get bigger, tastier heads of garlic if you plant in the fall and allow them to overwinter.
You can grow garlic just about anywhere. We have grown in raised beds and directly in the ground, but garlic is also well suited for container gardening and can be grown in a large enough container right on your deck or balcony if you’re in an apartment. Garlic doesn’t require a ton of space to grow and does well in most conditions so feel free to try growing in whatever space you have.
Before planting you’ll need to get your hands on some seed garlic. Now, seed garlic is simply regular garlic (you plant the cloves), but it is typically a variety of garlic that has been grown locally and organically and the bulbs have been carefully selected for replanting because they are the strongest, largest bulbs. Basically they’re the cream of the crop so they’ve been selected to “reproduce.”
If you can’t get any seed garlic, at least makes sure you are using local, organic, untreated garlic. We missed out on seed garlic this year as it was sold out everywhere by the time we were ready to plant, so I selected some of the best bulbs I could find from a local, organic producer at our market. We haven’t yet grown enough to replant our own, otherwise I would have simply selected seed garlic from the garlic we grew last year. But since I wanted to go for a larger crop this year (and eat the garlic we grew) I purchased in from a local farmer.
DO NOT plant garlic from any old supermarket. Often times the garlic you’ll find at the larger supermarkets is imported from other countries and is treated to last longer on the shelves since it needs to travel a long ways and sit on supermarket shelves for some time (another reason why it’s better to buy local or grow your own). Treated garlic often doesn’t grow, and even if it does it can ruin your soil and actually prevent anything from growing in it. Plus, if you’re going for organic, treated garlic is not something you want to introduce to your garden. Just don’t.
Hardneck Vs. Softneck Garlic
When selecting your garlic, also know that there are many different varieties, but there are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. We grow harneck garlic here in B.C. (I actually have never seen the soft neck variety available). But often times you will get a choice. Both have their pros and cons.
Hardneck garlic is garlic with a hard stem that needs to be broken off after is has cured. The garlic can then be stored as individual heads in a well aerated place. Softneck garlic has a soft stem that can be braided and you can then hang bunches of bulbs in your kitchen or pantry. This is probably the more aesthetic way to go and arguably easier for storing correctly, but the drawback to softneck garlic is that you don’t get the bonus harvest that hardneck varieties give in the early summer.
Usually around June, hardneck garlic will send up something called a garlic scape from their stem. Garlic scapes are essentially the garlic flower that, if left to blossom and go to seed, will produce seeds that can be replanted (but take way longer to grow than growing garlic from cloves).
You can harvest the scapes while the flower is still just a tiny bud. The scapes are edible and have a mild garlic flavour but with a green bean/asparagus texture.
Getting Your Garlic in the Ground
Alright, back to planting garlic… Once you have some good organic seed garlic, it’s time to plant. We usually plant on Thanksgiving weekend in October (we’re Canadian). But as long as you get it in the ground before the first hard frost, you should be okay. If you plant in the spring, you can sow the garlic cloves as soon as the soil can be worked. Expect a slightly smaller harvest though.
Before planting, you might want to work some organic matter into the soil, especially if you’ve recently harvested a summer crop that was growing in the same spot. You’ll want to add nutrients back to the soil, so either mix in some compost from home or from the store and give it a few days before planting your garlic.
To plant, I use a trowel to “draw” lines in the soil where I want my rows to be. Then break apart the heads and plant each individual clove about 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart along the rows. Plant each clove with the root side down (pointy side up). I plant them all first and then cover with dirt. This helps me to make sure I didn’t miss any.
Once they’re in the ground and covered with soil, give them a good, deep watering and then mulch with whatever you have access to. I mulch with yard trimmings from our neighbour’s yard since he has a massive pile of grass clippings piled up from mowing his acreage. I just load up a wheelbarrow (or a few large handfuls) and cover the soil where my garlic is planted with a bed of grass mulch. This acts as a blanket, helping to insulate it through the winter. Mulching also helps keep nutrients from eroding and keeps the ground moist between watering.
You can use leaves as mulch if you like since you likely have lots of fallen leaves laying around in October. Or you could use wood chips, newspaper clippings, sawdust or alfalfa hay… Pretty much whatever you have lying around. You don’t need to mulch, but it’s best if you do for this overwintering crop.
Once you’ve planted, watered and mulched, you can pretty much set it and forget it when it comes to garlic. As long as you get enough rain over the fall, winter and spring months, you don’t have to do much to maintain and care for your garlic crop. It pretty much takes care of itself.
How to Harvest Garlic
In the early spring you will begin to see little shoots of green emerging from the soil. These will continue to grow up and up until they become very tall. In early summer (usually in June) hardneck garlic varieties will produce garlic scapes. Again, for a tutorial on how to harvest and use the scapes, check out this video.
Once you’ve harvested your scapes from hardneck garlic, continue to allow the stems and garlic to grow for about another month. Typically garlic is ready around mid to late July. You’ll know it’s ready to harvest once the leaves on hardneck garlic begin to turn brown on the ends, or on softneck garlic, the stems will actually fall over.
If you’re trying to guess how big your garlic heads will be, the number of leaves on each plant gives a pretty good indication (more leaves = more layers = bigger garlic). Mild winters will produce bigger garlic as it is able to grow for longer in the winter. Our garlic last year was on the small side because we had an abnormally cold winter that completely stopped things from growing for a while.
When you are ready to harvest, you can simply tug at the base of the stem and pull the garlic right out if your soil is loose enough. You might need a hand trowel to help you loosen the soil around each bulb as you pull it out, but be careful not to puncture the garlic as it won’t store for long if the flesh has bee ruptured.
It’s a good idea to stop watering a couple weeks before harvesting as this helps to give the garlic a head start on curing, which is an important next step in the garlic growing process.
Curing & Storing Garlic At Home
Once you’ve harvested all of your garlic, it’s time to cure. Curing simply means allowing it to dry out enough that it forms those flaky, papery outer layers that will protect it and keep it from going moldy in storage. This step is very important if you expect your garlic to last you through the winter (or any length of time).
First, dust off any excess dirt, but don’t worry about getting all the dirt off. As it dries it will crumble off easier. Whatever you do, don’t wash off the dirt. Keep the heads as dry as possible and don’t introduce any added moisture.
The best way to cure garlic is to lay the bulbs out in a single layer on top of some mesh or screen material that will allow the garlic to breathe on all sides. You’ll want to find a place out of direct sunlight that gets good air circulation.
We spread out some chicken wire that we suspend from the shelves under the lean-to beside our garage. Then we lay all the garlic out on the chicken wire and allow it to cure here in the shade of the open lean-to. A covered deck, porch or balcony works too. If you really don’t have a good shady spot, you could even put them under a table or tent outside. Just something to keep the sun from beaming down directly on them.
Allow your garlic to cure for several weeks (I usually leave mine out until the end of August or early September). Once cured, brush off any remaining dirt, cut off the hardneck stems (and braid the softneck stems) and then store in your pantry or kitchen. Be mindful about where you hang any garlic you’ve braided as you want it to stay dry and well-aerated. So don’t hang it directly above your stove as the heat and humidity from cooking and boiling liquids on your stovetop can affect the shelf-life of your garlic.
Your garlic should last you well through the winter if you’ve cured it correctly and stored it in a cool, dry place. So enjoy it and eat lots because it’s good for your health! And don’t forget to get your next crop in the ground in time for the following year. This is definitely something you’ll want to plant year after year once you see how easy and rewarding it is to grow garlic at home!