A staple in cuisines worldwide, garlic is an easy-to-grow crop that takes up little space and yields big flavor rewards. Growing your own garlic allows you to choose from specialty varieties that offer a range of flavor profiles. Why buy supermarket garlic (much of which is grown far away, usually in China) when you can enjoy homegrown?
In most parts of the country, garlic is planted in fall and harvested the following summer. Planting in fall allows the garlic to grow a healthy root system, so it can burst to life in spring and produce big bulbs by summer.
Purchase garlic sold specifically for planting. It's available from many seed companies, garden centers, and online garlic specialists. Supermarket garlic may have been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor that will prevent it from growing.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck varieties produce a stiff central stem. Compared to softneck varieties, they tend to have a sharper flavor, and they're hardier, too.
Softneck varieties don't produce a stiff stem. This is the type usually found in the supermarket produce section, and it's the best choice for regions with mild winters.
Six Steps to Success
1. Plan to plant garlic in fall about four to six weeks before the ground freezes. A raised bed is perfect for growing garlic.
2. Prepare the soil by loosening it to a depth of at least 8" and mix in some slow-release, granular organic fertilizer.
3. Just prior to planting, break up the garlic heads into individual cloves, leaving intact as much of the papery covering on each clove as possible.
4. Dig a 3" to 4" deep trench along the length of the bed.
5. Plant cloves pointy end up, and then fill in the trench to cover the cloves.
6. Water gently to settle the soil, and then cover the bed with a 4" to 6" layer of straw.
Even as air temperatures drop in autumn, the soil will stay warm enough for the cloves to establish roots before the ground freezes. Don't be concerned if you see some green shoots growing in fall; it won't harm the plants. They'll begin growing in earnest in spring.
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By Nancy Buley, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., Wholesale Tree Growers
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
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