As September flies by, and the Autumnal Equinox approaches this week (September 22nd), the time to plant garlic in grow zone 8b approaches quickly. At this point you can plant it from now till right before the first frost. But if you haven’t acquired garlic to plant, don’t wait. You might find it hard to find garlic locally, or even online as it sells quickly. The key is to get it into the ground before the ground freezes. For us in zone 8b it is often early November. But you can never tell, so do it by mid-October for best results.
- Determine what garlic you want to grow: Soft neck? Hard neck? Spicy or mild? Each garlic variety will have a description talking about its features. To figure out how much to buy think of how many potential cloves each head has. And how many plants you want. You will want to plant enough to eat, and enough to plant next year. If a head has an average of 8 cloves, and you want 64 plants…well you need 8 bulbs. See below for spacing.
- Figure where you want to plant the garlic: If your ground water level is high, deep raised boxes can be your friend. Since your garlic will be over wintering you don’t want it sitting in water and potentially rotting. Think about if rain water sits in the area, or does it sink in quickly. Raised rows also work well. Rotate garlic yearly, don’t grow it in the same spot every year. Make sure your garlic will receive as much sun as possible in summer.
- Once situated: Weed the bed well, turning it over gently. Add soil or compost as needed on top.
- Break your garlic up into individual cloves. I wear disposable gloves so I don’t stink for days, but I am princess it seems.
- Spacing and planting: I do rows 1 foot apart and as our beds are 30″ wide, I can fit 5 cloves across. Our row is a shy 100 ft long (yes, we grow a lot!) You want at least 6″ apart per clove, for ample growth.
(That is my antique dibble)
- Using a dibble or a broomstick: Poke the holes into the soil. Drop a single clove in, and cover with dirt, gently tamping down the soil.
- Cover your garlic with straw deeply. Water the straw to hold it down, then walk away for the fall and winter. Unless your fall is hot, don’t worry about watering.
- In late winter to early spring the garlic will come alive once again, and push up through the straw, green stalks rising up. As the weather heats up, you will want to keep it well watered so it grows large.
- In late spring if you grew hard neck you will get garlic scapes appear. They come up out of the top of the stalk. These are edible, cut off and enjoy. Diced up they taste like garlic asparagus (I add to eggs) or use to make a pesto sauce. The scapes if allowed to grow will turn into a flower head, that then produces bulbils. The bulbils can be harvested and used to grow garlic, but it will take 2 to 3 years time. Cutting off the garlic scapes allows the bulb in the ground to fully grow. I let 1 or 2 go for the fun of producing the tiny “seeds” and that bees love the flowers.
- Around end of June/4th of July quit watering.
- You will know when to harvest when the tops start turning tawny in color. To harvest, pull gently up to pop out. If the top breaks (and it does a few times at least) gently use a small hand shovel to loosen under the roots, being careful to not gouge the garlic.
- To cure: Shake dirt off of the bulb and gather all the garlic. Trim the stalks back, leaving 6 or so inches. Place it in an airy spot, out of the sun for a couple of weeks. We place a wood pallet over a garden cart in our shop, and walk away. The pallet ensures air flow, and the dirt drops down as the garlic dries. Once cured, we trim the stalk back even more.
- To store for use: We keep ours in a large cardboard box, with plenty of room to breathe. We have a cellar that is 55* year round and use this to store it in. We haven’t had rodent issues with garlic, but your mileage may vary. The key is keep it cool, in the dark, and no moisture. If it sprouts, use that for seed garlic first.
- Saving seed garlic: I pick out any heads (bulbs) where the paper is cracked or pulled back first, or ones I have to dig out. Then I use the biggest after that. These I keep well venilated, in a cool and dry place and wait planting time. Then I enjoy the rest of the garlic!
- And last but not least…if you get garlic that sprouts, just go randomly plant it. Even if it is from the grocery store. Find a spot, and plant it. Garlic is resilient, and it has a will to grow even if you have a black thumb.