Easy Tips for Growing this Delicious Crop
Do you love garlic as much as I do? Honestly, probably not. I have a deep and abiding love for garlic that surpasses many other things in life. I mean, I love my husband, daughter and mom more than garlic (most of the time), but I really, really do love it.
So, what’s a dedicated garlic lover to do? Well, grow it, of course!
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Benefits of Growing Garlic
Besides the obvious plus of having garlic at your fingertips whenever you want it, there are several benefits to growing it in your own garden.
First, although I love garlic, most pests HATE it! Even moles and voles will be repelled by garlic plants growing in the garden, so using garlic as a companion plant to root vegetables like sweet potatoes, radishes and carrots is an awesome idea.
Note: You don’t want to grow garlic close to peas and beans, although you can feel free to plant it after these crops in your crop rotation plan. (You do rotate your crops, right? If not, check out my post on why you should here, and a couple of simple ways to implement your own crop rotation plan here.)
Garlic also makes a great natural insect repellent spray for your plants. Just peel and chop up 6 cloves of garlic and heat them in a saucepan with 2 quarts of water until the water starts to steam. Let this simmer for 20 minutes or so, then discard the garlic and allow the water to cool. Put a tablespoon of natural soap (like castile) in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with the garlic water.
Spray this on the plants that are chewed by insects every few days. You don’t want to apply during the heat of the day, but rather in the early morning and late in the evening to avoid burning your plants.
I wish I had known about this earlier as it’s effective against cabbage bugs, which got all my cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower plants this year. *sigh*
Garlic also repels mosquitoes. I figure it’s because they’re actually tiny little vampires, but maybe that’s just me.
I’m not sure you’d want to spray yourself with garlic spray before going outside, but I have to say, I went on a kick of using lots of garlic-infused olive oil in my cooking one summer a couple years back, and I quite literally never got bitten.
This is a big deal. I’m the one the mosquitoes normally flock to, and I had NOT A SINGLE BITE! This stuff works! Now, to figure out a way to produce a garlic bug spray that doesn’t make me smell like spaghetti sauce…..
Types of Garlic
There are many varieties of garlic, but they all fall into two different categories: hard-neck and soft-neck. There’s also elephant garlic, but not a whole lot of people grow it (although it sounds intriguing…1 lb bulbs…..)
Soft-neck garlic is a bit easier to grow (particularly where it’s warm) and it stores better.
However, hard-neck garlic has the added benefit of growing scapes in the spring. These are actually the flower stems and should be removed so the plant grows larger cloves underground. The great thing is, however, that garlic scapes are DELICIOUS!
Not sure what a scape is or how to recognize it? That’s ok, I wrote a post about them a while back. You can check that out here.
Many people also say that hard-neck garlic is tastier, although I love all garlic and haven’t been able to tell the difference. It can be a bit harder to store long-term, so if your goal is to have garlic from your garden all winter, you’ll probably want to grow soft-neck.
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is a super easy plant to grow. It’s extremely pest and disease-resistant, so it’s a great beginner crop.
In zones 5-9, you should plant your garlic in the fall, around Columbus Day in the north, a bit later in the south.
I don’t recommend trying to grow garlic from bulbs you buy at the grocery store as you don’t know whether or not they’ve been treated with growth inhibitors. You can certainly try with organic bulbs, just be aware that it may or may not work.
Two great places to get garlic (I’m not affiliated with either, but love them both!) are High Mowing Organic Seeds and The Maine Potato Lady. Yes, she does mostly potatoes, but she has garlic too. I’ve gotten both from her and been very happy.
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Garlic likes deep, rich soil, as most crop plants do. Before planting, hand turn your soil so it’s nice and crumbly, then add a thick layer of manure (3 inches or so) and incorporate. Garlic also appreciates both phosphorus and potassium, which you can add via bone meal and wood ashes, or an organic fertilizer higher in the second and third numbers.
If you need bone meal, you can find that here. If you’d rather use an organic fertilizer, this is my favorite. I know it says Rose & Flowering, but it’s got the higher phosphorus and potassium, so is also appropriate for your garlic.
If spring is extremely damp in your area (as it tends to be here in the Northeast), either plant your garlic in a raised bed or mound your soil before planting so your cloves aren’t sitting in water. They don’t like cold, wet feet any more than you do!
As with most bulbs, the pointy end goes up. You’ll want to separate the heads and plant individual cloves approximately 4 to 6 inches apart.
Push them into the soil just until they’re covered, then add 5 inches of straw over the top. Winter rains and snows will compress this layer, but that’s ok, the garlic won’t mind!
Weeding is Important
One thing that can really affect yields with garlic is weed competition. Be sure to pull any weeds you find as soon as possible.
Cut off the Scapes
As we talked about, if you grow hard neck garlic, you’ll see scapes in the spring. They look like curly stems coming up from your garlic. Cut these and use them as they’re quite tasty. I’ve chopped and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil, then frozen them for use later in recipes.
When and How to Harvest
The time when you’ll want to harvest is going to differ depending on your climate, but you’ll know it’s time when several of the leaves have turned dry and brown. For me here in Zone 6b, it’s late August or early September, but going by whether the leaves have dried is the best indicator of harvest time.
I’ve found the easiest way to harvest is just to loosen the soil right around the plant gently with your fingers and pull it up. If the soil is too well-packed for that, use a spade to gently loosen the soil, taking care not to damage the bulb.
Dry your garlic in a warm, dry place away from direct sunlight for about a week, cut off the greens and store it at approximately 50 to 60F.
Want some yummy recipes? Check out the cookbooks below (they’re Volume 1 and Volume 2 because all that garlicky goodness couldn’t be contained in just one book!)
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post. If you’d like to pin it for later, you’ll find a couple of pinnable images below.
Otherwise, smile and have a crazy organic day!
Posts Related to Growing Garlic
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