How to grow garlic in the Colorado foothills

**NEW and IMPROVED! Now with more fantastic pictures!** –Oct. 2014

It’s almost garlic-planting time again! Gabe and I try to expand our empire every year by giving out bulbs to our friends and neighbors and then giving them instructions on how to plant the garlic if they so desire. I figure I should share our instructions because they’re awesome and also, I can now just point my friends and neighbors to this post instead of hunting the instructions down each time.

These instructions apply to hardneck garlic. Yes, you can try planting the garlic you get at the store but there’s a good chance it won’t work. It’s best to get your bulbs from a Farmer’s Market or order the bulbs from a seed supply company. That way, you’ll know if you have hardneck garlic or the other kind that you can braid and use as decoration.

So, I’m going to break this down by season. Hardneck garlic stays in the ground over the winter, much like tulips. Here’s a basic year-long plan for growing this fabulous stuff in the Colorado foothills:

September

Make a comfortable, delicious bed for your baby garlic cloves. Add compost and make sure the dirt is soft and has no lumps for 6-8 inches down. You’ll be planting cloves 2″ apart so plan your garlic bed accordingly.

Compost

If you’ve been making compost, now is the time to use it! This is our little compost bin. See? Greenery at the top, dirt at the bottom! It’s magic.

Big bucket of compost

This is the delicious compost, a whole bucket-full!

  • Garden bed

    So obviously, the bed has been empty for awhile. It was the summer veggies and they’re long gone. So we need to turn the dirt (dig it up), remove the weeds, pick the rocks out, and break up the dirt clods. Then we’ll mix the compost in and make it all delicious and soft.

    Digging in the dirt

    Dig, dig, dig!

    Lovely garlic bed

    See how pretty? We’ve just tilled the compost into the dirt and brought the remaining dirt clods up to the surface to break apart. We’re just about ready to plant.

After the first frost

Remove any loose paper from the cloves but don’t peel them. The hard paper skin is their pajamas and they will get cold if not properly dressed for the winter.

Basket o' garlic

Here are a bunch of garlic bulbs! We’re gonna plant ’em.

Inside a garlic bulb

First, you have to unpeel the bulb and pop all the cloves out.

Breaking out the cloves

Gabe, here, separates the cloves because it’s finger-hurting work and I am very delicate and fragile.

Plant garlic cloves flat-ish end down, pointy side up. Put them 2 inches down and 2 inches apart. Gently and lovingly pat dirt over the cloves and say sweet things to them like, “Goodnight, dear baby garlics. Sleep well all winter. I will see you in the spring. I love you. Night night” or sing lullabies.

Garlic bottom

This is the flattish end. It’s going to sit in the dirt.

Garlic clove

The pointy end is the top. It’s going to stick up.

Planting garlic

See? I’m about to put the clove, flattish end down, into the dirt. Then I’m going to push it down so it’s nearly covered.

Garlic in dirt

There it is, pointy end up, pushed into the dirt.

Garlic babies

Voila! All the little garlic cloves tucked into their dirty rows, ready to be covered over so they can go to sleep for the winter.

Cover bed with a nice, warm blanket of grass clippings or rabbit/chicken straw or anything nourishing yet warm like that.

Let sleeping garlics lie

We just pushed the dirt back over them all and patted them down. Easy!

Sleep tight, baby garlics

Final step: Cover with blanket. Old straw, in this case. Grass clippings, leaf mulch, old straw from the chicken coop or rabbit pen, those all work, too. Then water it really well.

All winter long

If there’s no snow on the bed, make sure it gets watered weekly. You may have to add mulch if the straw/clipping blankets blow away. Don’t let the dirt get too exposed and don’t let the bed get too dry.

Spring

Garlic shoots should start popping up between March and May unless it’s a mild winter, in which case you might see them earlier. If they do pop up earlier, keep them snipped back until March otherwise they’re just going to get crushed in spring snows and then they’ll have to start over and that is a pain in the butt for them. If they DO get crushed by spring snows, don’t worry. They’ll be fine, it just takes them awhile to recover.

Leave whatever mulch is left on the bed but you don’t need to add more. Start watering a couple times a week if there’s no snow/rain. Beds should not dry out from here on out.

If you feel like it, you can plant carrots, small red radishes (not daikons), green onions, marigolds or bush beans between the rows (bush beans would go in the squares of no-garlic areas instead of between two garlic babies)

Summer

Garlic will start to make seeds in the June timeframe (earlier if it was a mild winter and they’ve had a longer growing season). The seeds are called “scapes” once they’re harvested. Search for images of scapes on Google so you can see what they look like. They’re long, curly stems that usually come from the top-ish area of the garlic stalk. Once they’re curly and they start to have a seed pod at the end, clip them off near the base of the seed stem where it comes out of the garlic stalk. You can cook these and they’re really expensive at Whole Foods so you can totally feel like you just saved a ton of money on a gourmet plant piece. Just Google “scapes recipes” and you’ll find all sorts of stuff. I guess you can make pesto out of them, too. Neat, right?

Scapes

Those curly things are the scapes! See where they’re a lighter, brighter green down where they come off the main stem? That’s where you cut them.

Our garlic patch in July. With strawberries. And milk cartons. Don’t judge.

July/August

Once the leaves on the stalk are mostly dead and the base of the stalk down by the dirt is sort of squishy/no-longer-firm, it’s time to dig the bulbs out of the ground. This could happen as early as July or as late as September, but usually this happens in the first couple of weeks of August. Dig the bed from the outside, loosen all the dirt, then pull up the garlic bulbs by the stalks. If the bed got really packed over the summer, you’ll have to dig gently around each bulb to get it out. DO NOT RINSE BULBS; just brush them off with your hands as well as you can. Get as much dirt out of the roots as possible.

See how they’re all turning brown and look all dry? It’s nearin’ pickin’ time. This was taken about a week before we harvested.

Once they’re all pulled and de-dirted, put all of them – the whole plant – root-side-down in a paper bag and store said bag in a cool, dry, non-sunny area for 2 weeks. If you have more bulbs than bag space, use more bags.

After 2 weeks, your babies are cured. Remove them from the bag and cut the stalk off ~1 inch above the bulb. Cut the roots off. Now you have real garlic to eat or replant. We usually save about 1/3 of the bulbs to replant, then consume the rest. The important part is to be impressed with yourself and to love your homemade garlic.

Not our best year for garlic, but not bad. We took these puppies, stems and all, and shoved them into a paper bag. Then we stored them in the basement for two weeks to cure.

Evie inspected the bag-packing process to make sure we’re doing it right. Because this is, apparently, very difficult and must be managed with care. Thanks, Evie.

We store our to-be-eaten garlic in a cute little basket in our fake pantry, but you can put it anywhere it’s not going to get moist or overly cold. TLC has some tips on storing garlic, but do NOT listen to them about washing off the garlic after harvesting because HELLO! They’ll turn into gremlins if you get them wet. Or they can potentially get moldy. Same thing.

All cured and ready to go. The basket is the eating garlic, the purple square is the gift garlic, and the red tin in the to-be-planted garlic.

Edit: See also: This post from Mary Jane’s Farm

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2 Comments

Filed under Adventures

2 responses to “How to grow garlic in the Colorado foothills

  1. Tyler J. Yoder

    It won’t let me like your post! This is proof that WordPress is conspiring against me. I like the idea of nurturing garlic, but being shortly rootless means that I won’t be around to see my babies wake up in the spring, and that’s just irresponsible parenting.

    • WordPress is fickle and flighty.

      Heh heh heh “rootless” heh heh heh. Garden humor. Yeah, wait til you have your own place or, at least, access to a garden that you can use whenever you want. Though, you might be able to get away with the other kind of garlic, which is planted in the spring. Either way, I am glad you are a responsible garlic daddy.

      Don’t worry. I will leave you a garlic bed when you come to live in the basement.

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