GROWING GOURMET GARLIC
Growing garlic as if your life depended on it, because it does. Garlic is one of those incredible crops of antiquity. It has been loved for so many generations for all of its incredible benefits. When it comes to culinary delight and healthy body, garlic is the answer to many problems. Bad health? Grow garlic. Hungry? Grow garlic. Poor? Grow garlic. Bored? Grow garlic. Lonely? Grow garlic. The list goes on. The compound Allicin found in garlic has been linked to so many health benefits including improved heart health, getting rid of bacteria and viruses, reducing inflammation often associated with aches and pains, fighting wrinkles, and lowering blood sugar and cholesterol.
All of these incredibly beneficial effects don't even include the culinary blessings of our friend Allium Sativum. There are so many incredible ways to utilize garlic in our kitchens. One of our favorite is to melt butter, throw some minced garlic in for just long enough to coat it with the butter, then spread that raw garlic butter on toast. Healthy and delicious! In general, the more fine you chop the garlic and the less cooking done, the more flavor and benefits you will get. If we are making garlic as a snack we love to roast the individual peeled cloves. They become sweet and gooey... YUM!!!
Buying Enough Garlic for Your Needs
In our kitchen we go through about 4 -10 heads per week. Depending on what variety we are using, this is about a 1/2 to 1 pound of garlic per week. That means on an annual basis we go through about 25 - 50 pounds of garlic in our kitchen!!! No wonder we started selling wholesale garlic. Typically for hardneck you get back 3-4 times what you plant. For softneck you can get 4 - 6 times the weight you plant. This means if you eat as much as us that you will need to plant 5 - 15 pounds to meet your culinary needs.
If you order more seed garlic than you have room in your garden for, the good news is that its EDIBLE and is a great gift!!!!!
Garlic is usually planted September-November in the north, and from November through January in the south. Northern growers should plant at least two to four weeks before the ground freezes in order to insure good root growth prior to winter. We plant ours on the waning moon of September. The advantages to fall planting are many. It allows the roots to establish before the ground freezes. This way the clove is sure to be able to access the water and nutrients it needs to make it through the winter. Also, plants are more drought tolerant if they get deeper roots. By having well established roots in the fall the plant can focus on upper growth in spring. During the spring the garlic puts on leaves that harvest energy to feed the roots. More leaves by end of May means more potential energy captured to feed the root. If your plants come up early in the spring and get nipped by frost, no worries... it won't slow down these tenacious plants.
Deep Fall Roots = Abundant Spring Leaves = Large Summer Bulbs = Happiness
The long and short of growing garlic
Turn soil, mark out garlic holes, place garlic 2 " deep, rake surface smooth, mulch, winter waiting, weed, water, repeat. Lift garlic, scrub off soil, peel off 1 outer leaf, bundle and tie, cure 3 weeks in high air flow, snip roots, final scrub, grade, and store.
Planting and Care
Break bulbs apart into individual cloves within a few days of planting so as to keep the cloves plump, safe from disease, and easy to store. After this is done, spread fertilizer on the designated beds and prepare the soil. Rotovators are a great way to maintain soil strata profiles and Berta Rotary Plows on a BCS walk behind is a great tool for making raised beds. We suggest having a tool that marks out the spacing while digging a hole for the garlic. This can be any number of things, such as a barrel you roll that has spikes attached or a plank of wood with hope handles and spikes attached to the bottom so you can step on the wood and drive the stakes into the ground.
Plant the cloves with the root scab down and the point to the sky. Drag a board with ropes tied to each end over the entire bed to smooth it out... or rake it... or use an implement. Mulch immediately to keep the soil moist. We like to use a device that grinds up straw and blows it through a tube. When choosing cloves keep in mind that big cloves turn into bulbs, while small cloves turn into bulbs.
Garlic can be greedy so make sure you are giving it lots of good nutrients. It prefers nutrient rich and well-drained soil but is also very adaptable. If your soil drains poorly then you may want to Spring plant as that is often what "winter kills" garlic - poorly draining soil in the winter. Hardneck garlics are picky and like high quality soil more than soft neck. We mix in manure/fertilizer/covercrops 2 weeks before planting. Come spring time we foliar feed with nitrogen rich fish emulsion whenever we can squeeze it in. This nitrogen rich fertilizer will ensure big leaves that will in turn create big bulbs. When June comes, give the garlic a liquid potassium (potash) fertilizer blended with a liquid humic acid (we suggest bioflora's lot 125). This will grow big roots as the potassium is a key player in cell division within the roots.
Hardneck garlics send up a flower stalk in early June in northern climates and as early as March or April in warm climates. When the scape has one loop in it, we break them off as low as possible. If using your hands you have to fold the scape in half and pinch it. If using pruners we sometimes cut it below the top leaf so that the remaining nub doesn't try to keep growing. Don't worry about losing a leaf as this will have little effect on the bulb. This action allows the plant to redirect its the energy downward into the bulb as opposed to the bulbil clones that would grow on the "flowering stalk".
As harvest season approaches, which is typically July, the plants will begin to dry. They will start at the lowest leaf and work their way up the plant by starting at the leaf tip and drying inward one leaf at a time. When there are 4 or 5 mostly green leaves left at the top then we will begin harvesting. Each leaf relates to a layer of skin around the garlic so the more green leaves you have, the better it will store. However, if you harvest with too many green leaves, you are taking away opportunity for bulking up the bulb. For most hardneck varieties you can use the woody scape as an indicator - when it's erect, you can harvest.
Using a spade fork or a broad fork will loosen the garlic so you can pull it up. Commercial growers or folks with large crops often use an undercutting blade attachment with their tractor or a potato root digger. We then like to beat soil off the roots and give each head a quick scrub. We then bundle the garlic into piles of 10 and tie 4 bundles of 10 in a string using slip knots. It is best to the keep the garlic out of direct sunlight in a place with good air circulation. We like to use fans as well. However, do not over dry them by putting them in a warm space with too much air flow. You want them to dry slowly so that the wrapper stays tight. Also, don’t leave freshly dug bulbs in direct sunlight for more than a few hours or they may sunburn. We like to get them on the trailer and covered in a tarp within a few hours of harvest.
We work in an assembly line style with people following the root digger cleaning who are then followed by bundlers who load the trailer. If you don't have a root digger, have people with forks first and give them a good head start.
The bulbs should cure in about 3 to 4 weeks in dry climates, but may need fans and heat sources in wet climates. To see if they are dry, cut a bulb off with a pruner and put the foamy inside of the hardneck to the point of your upper lip to feel for moistness. If there is a coolness to the touch, let them keep hanging. When completely cured the neck may be cut about one inch above the bulb without any detectable moisture. We trim the roots to half inch lengths with hand pruners, putting the blunt side against the garlic and the blade away from the head. We then store them in ventilated stackable nest boxes and onion sacks.
Separate any damaged bulbs as their issues will only worsen and spread while in storage. Store your crop in a cool dark place with a humidity around 30-45%. Basements or root cellars are often too moist, but a dark and cool part of the house with a circulating fan will work well. Moving air is critical. Most garlic stores well at just above freezing or 55 - 65 degrees. However the Spring time like temperatures of 36-50 degrees will encourage sprouting, especially if there is high humidity.
Asiatic and Turbans are the shortest storing garlics and are usually for summer eating. Rocamboles and Purple Stripes do ok and typically store about 6 months. Porcelains and Artichoke types store for about 8 to 10 months. Silverskins and Creoles can store for a full year. All that being said, in the right conditions you can get most garlic through to April.