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Planting Garlic

Growing garlic is a very easy task that requires very little space, very little preparation, and very little time (depending on how many you are planting, of course).  There are two main types of garlic – softneck and hardneck.  Usually the hardneck varieties are best grown where winters get cold and the softneck varieties grow best in mild winters – though they are pretty hardy no matter what.  Hardneck varieties have bigger cloves and stronger flavor.  Softneck varieties often have small cloves that are harder to peel, but have a milder taste.

I like to lay down rabbit manure or aged compost to the area I am about to plant in.  As I plant one row, already dug, I begin digging the next  row, filling the previous trench I just planted, with compost from the new row I am digging.  This mixes the dirt and manure without thought. Make sure the soil is loose in the entire planting area – pretty deep too.  Soil that compacts will prohibit growth.   I make my garlic beds about 3-3.5ft wide. I feel that is a nice width for my personal preferences, having to consider how hard it’ll be to reach the middle of the bed for weeding or other care.

For my 25 ft. rows, I planted approximately 4-5 big heads of garlic per row.   All the kids gathered together to separate the garlic heads into cloves, then we found a rock to space them about 2-4 inches apart, rows about 5-10 inches apart.  The pictures above seem to show the cloves a lot closer than that, but there was a lot of paper from the garlic heads that fell into the trenches, too.  We dug a little trench to place the cloves in, pointy side up planted at a depth of about 2 inches.  If you prefer making individual holes or aren’t planting a ton and don’t mind individual holes, a dibble is a great tool to use.  Simply insert it to the proper depth (measurements are often on the tool) and it makes a hole for you.  Use one wide enough to easily slide a garlic clove into the resulting hole.  I made mine using dowel rod, cut to length, a point whittled and sanded, measurements woodburned in, stained then sprayed with a protective coating.  Of course, fingers work just fine too.

For garlic to grow well, it needs loose, well drained soil.  Ideally you want to plant 2-4 weeks before the first frost (growing through winter encourages bigger bulbs) so that they can develop roots but not too much top growth.  Cover your newly planted garlic with 4-6 inches of mulch such as straw, grass clippings, leaves, etc.  The garlic will still grow through it and cuts down on weeds.

In the spring, when the garlic sends up shoots, fertilizer is beneficial.  Some like to fertilize again around May, then you will harvest usually early to mid summer.  Keep the weeds at bay and make sure the soil stays moist, but not soaking wet or the garlic will rot.  If you are growing a hardneck variety, be sure to cut off the ‘scape’ when it grows (they are great to eat – sautee them to add a mild garlic flavor to your food) so your bulb will grow larger.  Itty bitty garlic cloves can be grown closely together and you can trim the resulting shoots and use like you would chives (I hate waste, so I’ll plant every single clove in one way or another, LOL).

I wait until most of the green garlic leaves have yellowed before thinking about harvesting.  This way the papery skins have a chance to toughen up before they are removed from the dirt.  Don’t pull them up – gently dig them up with your fingers or a small shovel.  I like to keep the stems on and braid them to dry them for a while once they are out of the ground.


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