I live in southwestern New Hampshire and each year I attempt to grow my own garlic. After much trial and error and reading articles and books, this is what I’ve learned about planting, harvesting and drying garlic in my area of the country.
The first couple of years I had little luck, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t sure exactly when to plant it, and it never grew very large when I did manage to grow a few bulbs. As time went on, I read more, and realized that it needs to be weeded well. Weeds will compete for nutrients and keep the bulbs small. Also a little fertilizer when the stalks begin to grow can help.
This year I experimented by planting a bit differently. When I planted the single cloves of hardneck garlic bulbs in mid-October, I planted them in a raised bed. I use fabric pots, and I placed the cloves around the edge of one of the big fabric beds. It’s now July, and about time to dig them up, and they are looking very good! This is the first time I have hope of having decent sized bulbs to use.
After reading posts, and gardening books, written by actual farmers, or people who have experience growing their own garlic, I have picked up these tips and helpful information. (Beware of writers who are writing to make money on writing sites, as they may not have the correct information.) I have linked to some of them below, but my information has been gleaned over the years from many articles. I wanted all my Garlic growing information together on one page to view at a quick glance. I wrote this post as much for myself, as for my readers.
Here is what I’ve learned:
Planting: In the northeast, plant garlic in mid-October, before the ground freezes, but the cloves have a chance to put out roots and get established before winter comes. Plant each clove 2-3 inches deep, after breaking them from the main stem. According to Boundary Garlic Farm, the cloves should be separated at planting time, or no longer than 24 hours before. Cover with compost (I use chopped, dry leaves since I have so many dry leaves in Fall). You don’t want the cloves to ‘grow’ and show greenery until next spring.
In June hardneck garlic will send out garlic scapes. They should be cut to promote growth down in the bulbs. Use the scapes in cooking. If you don’t cut the scapes, they will turn into bulbils, which hold seeds that can be planted, although that is a whole other story.
Harvesting: Harvest by digging the bulbs in late July, or early August, about a month after the scapes appear, when the stalks begin to turn brown. Most of the stalks, or leaves should still be green, with only a couple that are brown.
*Don’t pull them up, but use a trowel to dig around the bulb and gently lift it out of the dirt.
*Don’t rinse the bulbs. Leave the tops (green leaves) on, as well as the roots. Just carefully brush off the excess dirt, without damaging the skin. They can be used right out of the ground, but to store some for later use, use the curing method below.
Drying / Curing the Bulbs: Hang or place the entire garlic plant someplace out of the sun, but with good air circulation. They can dry outside in a shady location, under cover with no way to get rained on. (I use my patio greenhouse for this.) By drying the paper-like skin, the garlic will store for months. During this time the goodness from the green leaves and roots is transferred to the bulb.
The time it takes to cure garlic seems to vary widely and depends on the size of the bulbs as well as the amount of humidity present, but it generally takes 4-8 weeks. You will know that the garlic is dry when the stalks turn brown and both the leaves and roots are dried up.
Storing: Cut the stems at 1 inch above the bulb, after the drying process. Also cut off most of the roots. DO NOT WASH. Garlic needs its protective skin left on. Store whole bulbs in a cool, dry place. They should be good to use for many months afterward. Soft bulbs should be used right away. The largest bulbs should be kept aside to use for planting.
There are other ways to store garlic.
*It can be frozen, and information on that can be found at AwaytoGarden.com site, as I have never tried this.
Some people store their garlic in oil, but I have never done that either.
Keep the best bulbs to use this fall as new plantings. In October break apart the cloves and plant them as suggested above.
If you are just starting out, and need some garlic to start with, don’t use store bought, unless it’s from a reputable organic store. My suggestion is to visit a farmer’s market and purchase local, organic garlic bulbs to plant. Of course garlic can be purchased online too.