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Growing Garlic

Most varieties of garlic, under most conditions, do best when planted in the fall. The timing of fall planting should be such that the roots have a chance to develop and the tops do not break the surface before winter. I have planted in the spring with mixed results.

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You can plant garlic in single or double rows or in intensive beds with four to six plants across.  Tighter spacing in the beds will produce a greater number of smaller bulbs for a higher total yield in terms of pounds of garlic per square foot of garden.

It is important to plant hard neck garlic with the top (pointed end) of the clove up, at least two inches below the surface.

When you have planted the garlic you can cover it with a layer of mulch if you wish.  I like to use straw or hay.

Mulching conserves moisture, moderates soil temperatures and inhibits weeds. Unfortunately, It also shelters rodents and attracts deer and elk.  You need to weigh out the positives and negatives before you mulch.

Mulching can even out the soil moisture between rains and irrigation cycles. It is not recommended in wetter climates where excess water can be a problem for garlic.

Moderating soil temperature is helpful where there are extremes of heat and cold. Garlic does not like repeated freezing and thawing. Frost heaves can tear the young roots from the cloves. A thick layer of winter mulch is a good insurance against winter kill. Garlic does not like extreme heat either and mulch will moderate the daily fluctuations in summer soil temperatures.

Chopped leaves, swamp grass, reeds and alfalfa hay are among the preferred mulch materials. Grain straw is not recommended because it can host wheat curl mite which will attack garlic. Grass hay is fine if you don’t mind lots of grass seed in your soil.

HARVESTING GARLIC

A few weeks before harvesting stop watering the garlic. Different growers have different rules of thumb regarding the best time to harvest:

  • when the lower leaves are half to three-quarters brown
  • when the plants are 40% brown, 60% green.

The dying back of the leaves is only an approximate indicator. Inspect a few bulbs in the ground by carefully scraping away the dirt. Pull the garlic from the ground when the bulb has reached a good size and before the wrappers begin to deteriorate or the bulbs begin to split open. If a bulb is not well-wrapped, and the skins on the cloves are not intact, the garlic will not keep well. Learning exactly when to stop watering and when to harvest is a matter of judgment that comes with experience.

Garlic harvesting can begin in July and continue through August depending on your variety.  It is important to take notes each year so you can make adjustments to your harvest schedule.

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