Days to germination: Not applicable
Days to harvest: Overwintering is required
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Well-drained, loose and fertile
It’s usually used as an herb or seasoning, but you can cook whole bulbs to be eaten more like a vegetable. When baked or roasted, they become soft and wonderfully fragrant. Garlic grows in a bulb called a head, and inside are smaller segments (the cloves).
Health benefits attributed to eating garlic are many, though many are not scientifically proven. Garlic can improve heart health and help lower high blood pressure problems, as well as possibly lowering cholesterol levels. Garlic is also quite high in manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.
There is little difference between the varieties of garlic on the market, though some will produce larger bulbs than others. The leaves are always green regardless of the variety. You can find 2 groups of garlic though, softneck or hardneck. Softneck is easier to grow and has more cloves than hardneck. You will get larger cloves though with hardneck.
One unique type is elephant garlic, which will grow far larger than normal types. It’s not actually garlic, and the flavor is extremely mild by comparison. Elephant garlic is usually not considered a substitute for the real thing when it comes to cooking.
Starting from Seed
Though garlic can be grown from seed, home gardeners usually start garlic by planting whole cloves. It’s much like starting potatoes with smaller seed potatoes. You can buy garlic cloves intended for planting (called sets, like with onions) or just use the regular garlic that you buy in the supermarket.
If you’re using garlic from the grocery store, only by unprocessed whole bulbs of garlic that you can separate out into cloves yourself. Cloves that have been peeled won’t work. You won’t likely know the variety if you buy from the supermarket, but most garlic used for mass-market is softneck.
If you want to grow garlic, you have to plan ahead more than the rest of your vegetables. Your seed cloves need to go into the ground around the time of your first frost in the fall, for harvest the next summer.
Prepare your garlic spot in the garden where it won’t be disturbed with the usual spring activity. But don’t plant your garlic in the same place every year. You’ll get more disease problems if you do. Rotate it around the garden each year.
Dig the soil to loosen it, about 4 or 5 inches down and add some compost. Don’t peel the papery skin off the clove, and bury each one into the soil with the pointed end upward. The tip should be about 2 inches underground. Keep your cloves 3 to 6 inches apart when you plant.
You can just leave the cloves come spring and they will sprout when the weather is right. Once you see leaves coming up, add some fertilizer to give them a boost. A high-nitrogen fertilizer is best for garlic though it can be harmful to other plants. Be careful when applying it, or use a regular fertilizer formulation instead.
Keep your garlic watered through the summer and don’t let them dry out too often. But you also don’t want your plants sitting in soggy water either or the bulbs can start to rot.
When the weather gets warmer in the summer, your plants will put up flower stalks. Unlike many other plants that stop producing after this point, you can just cut the flowers off and the garlic bulbs will keep on growing.
Garlic can grow fine in containers, but it still needs to overwinter outdoors in order to produce a decent sized bulb. Plant two or three starter cloves in a large pot in the fall, and leave it outside until spring.
Ensure that the container has good drainage and don’t over-water the plants.
Pests and Disease
The strong smell and taste of garlic is a natural repellent when it comes to insect or animal damage. So much so that you might want to plant a few cloves in around your other vegetables to help protect them from being eaten.
But disease is still a possibility, and white rot is the worst one for garlic. You may have it when the leaves start to turn yellow and wilt (not to be confused with the natural drying of the leaves at maturity). Dig up a bulb, and there will be no roots and just white fungus over the bottom of the plant. You can’t treat it. Try to harvest what you can from any unaffected plants, because even partially grown garlic will yield a few cloves.
Don’t plant garlic, leeks or onions in the same patch for at least another 3 to 4 years to help reduce the likelihood of more rot.
Leafminers may attack the leaves of your plants, though they usually don’t do enough harm to damage your crop unless there is a really large number of them. The small caterpillars chew tiny tunnels through the leaves. Frequent treatments of standard natural insecticide can help get rid of them.
Harvest and Storage
Each cloves that you plant will produce a new bulb containing between 10 to 20 cloves. You can plan your overall yield based on that rough estimate. The largest cloves will produce big bulbs, so select out the best cloves for the next planting season as you are using your garlic.
You will be able to start harvesting your garlic around mid to late summer. The top leaves will start to dry when they are ready. Depending on your soil, you can either pull up the bulbs by the leaves or dig them out gently with a shovel.
After pulling, you can use the bulbs right away. But if you plan on storing for longer periods of time, you should cure them first. Leave them out in the sun with the leaves still attached for 4 or 5 days so the outer layers start to dry. Long-term storage should be in a cool place (just above freezing) in a net or mesh bag for the best ventilation. It should keep for several months.
Don’t store your garlic bulbs in the refrigerator or they will lose their flavor and start to sprout. For regular kitchen use, keep your garlic in a dark place, stored in a ventilated container.
You can store raw garlic in oil for 3 weeks as long as its refrigerated. Its no longer considered safe to store garlic in oil at room temperature because of possible botulism contamination.