Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

Garlic Growing Revisited: Tips from a Lazy Homesteader

I have mentioned before how bad this year (2023) was for growing garlic. It was a couple things for us I feel. The long, cold spring into early summer didn’t help.

So lets get to the backstory first. Garlic is always a 2 year project for nearly everyone growing it. You plant the “seed” in mid-fall and walk away, to when it awakens in the spring. And you harvest it in the middle of summer, saving back some to plant the next year. (How to grow? See here.)

Last year my garlic had been amazing. It grew so well, and was as big as my palm.

Head of garlic grown on Whidbey Island in zone 8b. It can be done and the results are dramatically better than store bought garlic.

As usual I had saved garlic to replant. It went into the root cellar after I had cured it, to await for the fall.

In late October or so last year, I had the boys bring up the garlic and get the beds ready (plunking in the holes they punched). See here for how we plant it in fall from a few years back.

Fall came and went, and winter showed up. Then spring came, and it grew in that it did shoot up and produced garlic scapes. But it never got thick. It was very anemic in size on the upside.

Then I found another issue. As the garlic came up in spring…I realized my numbers were not right. My son was supposed to have planted a certain amount, but the numbers didn’t match. I then realized in our root cellar sat an ENTIRE box of garlic he had not planted in November. His older brother had never brought it up.

So suddenly in spring we were out there planting another 2 full beds (which was 4 cloves across each row). Yes, you can spring plant garlic. It will just take longer to mature.

I also grew it in a new bed we had carved out last year. It didn’t have irrigation built in yet, and I’d forget to water it enough in late spring into summer (I had a sprinkler on it….but I had to remember to do it – the bed is on the other side of the driveway and out of my mind). The soil wasn’t great I found out either. After the scapes came, the garlic just seemed to stop growing. I was so angry over it I stomped off and quit watering it. Even the younger spring garlic. I was frustrated and turned my back on the new bed. Let the weeds over take it.

So, it’s partially my fault, partially not. Lessons learned for next year, as always.

But there was something I learned this year. And it was huge.

A couple of weeks ago, as the weather has been slightly cooling off (and the sun isn’t so bright), I started my long list of fall farm chores to get everything ready for winter.

So I went out and, with a sour disposition, pulled all the garlic, which seemed mired in concrete-like soil. I spread it out on the grass to dry for a day, so we could knock the massive dirt clumps off of the bulbs, then I shoved all the stalks into a large pot to stash for a bit.

A few days later I was going to cut the stalks off, to just be bulbs when I realized….this garlic was cured.

It had self cured in the ground as I had my hissy fit. Sometime from end of July on.

The youngest boy started processing it for seed yesterday. The cloves just fell off. Yet, it was perfect garlic. Maybe on the smaller side for bulb size, but the cloves were firm and fresh.

In years before my garlic grew with irrigation for the other items in the beds, and so didn’t have the chance to dry out. Here, alone, it could dry out. And dry out over time, without the bulbs baking in summer heat in a greenhouse or shed. Instead the earth simply dried out as it would normally over the length of summer.

I will never pull my garlic to cure in a shed again unless we have a cold wet summer. I will be the lazy homesteader from here out, and let nature do the work for me.