Growing Garlic

Written by Sarah Provost
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Garlic isn't often the first thing beginning gardeners think of when planning a home garden. "Why bother?" they may think. "Garlic is cheap in the stores, and it all tastes the same." Experienced gardeners know, however, that there are more than 60 different varieties of garlic, each with its own unique size, color and flavor.

Most varieties of garlic have a preference for either mild or cold winters, so you should be sure you're buying appropriate stock for your climate. Most often the varieties called hardneck prefer colder winters and those labeled softneck like milder climates. Garlic is a bulb, like tulips and daffodils, so it is best planted in the fall for a spring and summer crop.

Preparing the Soil and Planting the Cloves

Garlic has deep roots, so you should till or dig your bed thoroughly before planting. Good drainage is a must, to prevent the bulbs from rotting. Break the bulbs apart into cloves no more than 48 hours before you plant them. Plant the largest cloves for the largest crops. You can eat the little ones, or plant them separately and use the green shoots in the spring. You can plant them very close together, just leaving enough room for the mature bulb.

A thick layer of mulch applied after planting is essential, to protect the bulb from extremes of winter temperatures. Water well when planting and during early growth in the spring, but stop watering altogether in mid to late June, when the wrappers are drying out. Plants should be harvested when the lower third to one-half of the leaves are brown. Don't wait until all the leaves are brown, or the bulbs will shrivel.

Garlic should be "cured" before storing. Do not wash it or allow it to become wet. Tie bunches by their leaves and hang in a dry, airy place for two to three weeks. Air circulation is important in storing garlic as well. Don't store it in the refrigerator, or it will sprout and lose flavor.

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