With the whole country divided on every issue, it seems like there is constant disagreement. However there is one thing everyone can agree upon, garlic is delicious. The left and the right use it, and every culture takes advantage of its signature flavor. Garlic is even good for you, it has too many health benefits to list here, and keeps vampires away, supposedly. It keeps well and is easy to grow, so why do so few gardeners plant this unifying crop? Growing garlic takes just a few easy steps and a little bit of planning ahead. We grow hard neck garlic which is well suited for northern climates like ours. Although garlic is easy to grow, it can be expensive to get started. With seed companies charging upwards of $5 a bulb, planting more than a few dozen cloves can be cost prohibitive. We were lucky enough to have a great friend who got us started. She not only gave us the cloves to get going, but shared some of her secrets to growing garlic with us. The first of which was when to plant it. Here in zone 5 we plant garlic in the fall around Columbus day. Because we plant in the fall and do not harvest until June, we have to think about what next years garden will look like. One benefit to garlic being done early the next season, is that you can plant a late season crop in the same spot right after you harvest your garlic. We like to plant peas for fall harvest and to put nitrogen back into the soil. Once we choose our spot we till it well and sometimes add a little peat moss if the soil is too firm. We then take only the largest cloves of the head and plant them. We put them about 3″ in the ground with the pointy end up. We find a grid pattern works well with 6″ spacing. We then cover the cloves with dirt and wait. Some seasons the garlic will sprout in the fall, others it won’t come up, which seems to make little difference in the final product. Right before the ground freezes hard for the winter, we cover the garlic bed with leaves to give it a little protection. Then we wait through the long winter, garlic is the first sign of spring in our garden. When the ground has mostly thawed, we rake away the leaves from the bed. Garlic’s little green stalks pop up out of the ground letting you know they made it through the hard winter.
They grow very quickly in the cool weather of spring.
In early June, our garlic begins to send up scapes. These are an edible stalk that grows up from the center of the vegetation. They are delicious and once they curl all the way around in a circle we cut them.
They are great added as seasoning and make a great pesto. Once the scapes have been cut, your garlic’s leaves will begin to yellow signifying that it is putting all of its energy into the yet unseen bulb below the soil. When most of the leaves are yellow, we pull the heads of garlic from the ground and finally get to see if all of our hard work has paid off.
When you pull the heads, it is important not to yank them up by the stalk, but rather turn them up with a pitchfork or shovel. We then let them lay on the soil to dry out for a day so that we can brush most of the dirt off of them. Next comes curing, which is just as important as the growing. You can use garlic fresh as well, it is just hard to peel. We hang our garlic in a cool dry place with good air circulation for several weeks to a month. There is nothing like walking into a room, or in our case garage, full of drying garlic.
You can see all those potential delicious meals hanging right in front of you. We then cut the stalks about 4″ above the head of garlic and then let it hang an additional two weeks. After the two weeks we place it in brown paper bags and store it in a cool dark place. We also separate out the heads which we intend to plant the next year. We always save the best and largest heads to replant. We plant a few extra cloves every year and we now are getting close to 200. We will never buy garlic from the store again, and because we don’t need to buy seed to plant, it’s basically free. So turn off CNN or FOX news and do something good for the country and plant some garlic this fall, your family will be glad you did.