**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:
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.
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.
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.
Cover bed with a nice, warm blanket of grass clippings or rabbit/chicken straw or anything nourishing yet warm like that.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
Edit: See also: This post from Mary Jane’s Farm