While shopping at your local farmers market, pick up few extra bulbs of garlic from your favorite organic farmer to plant at your urban farmscape. Garlic is an easy plant to grow, and not only will you harvest your crop at the end of next summer; you will get a bonus crop of garlic scapes in the spring.
Now is the time of year when I plant my garlic. It grows best in nutrient poor, sandy-loamy soils. I have grown it in full sun and this past year I grew it in part shade which did very well. I harvested about late July, early August and after curing, saved what I thought to be the best to grow for next year. Basically, there are two types of garlic, hardneck varieties, and softneck. The softneck varieties are used for making garlic braids. Hardneck varieties will store longer. You choose what you want to grow. I grow mostly hardneck varieties.
I learned how to grow garlic when I grew over then varieties at my country farm after reading a book by Ron L. Engeland, “Growing Great Garlic”. You can get his book too, but for starters, here are some general steps to get your prepped for planting.
- Select firm, hard bulbs. They should be free of damage or soft spots. Bigger is not always better.
- “Pop” the cloves by holding the stem with one hand, turn while holding the bulb in the other. If you are good,
this should separate the cloves from the stem.
- Plant each clove about 2 inches below the top of the soil. This year I planted the cloves about 4 inches apart. The beds they were planted in were two feet by four feet, which was about nine clovers per square foot. I planted four beds. That was a little too much, but I do love garlic!
- Mulch with straw, about two inches thick.
- Water through freezing temperatures.
In the spring you will begin to see garlic growing, and as soon as the weather warms up, it will grow many leaves. Soon, a stem will rise from the center, and a pointed flower bud will form at the end of the stem. This is called the “scape”. When in curls, you know it is time to remove it. These scapes are delicious when sautéed in some butter. With their mild garlic flavor, this is a real spring treat. Allow the garlic to continue to grow until later in the summer. You should then allow the soil to dry out, and as the leaves begin to turn yellow and dry, you know it will soon be time to harvest. Ron says in his book to harvest the hardneck varieties when only 5 leaves remain. The softneck varieties can dry a little more.
Follow these general steps for harvesting and storage:
- Harvest after about half of the leaves dry out. Brush off soil, do not wash.
- Tie together in bunches and hang in a dry, airy, shaded location, such as a garage or car port.
- Allow to cure for at least two weeks.
- Clean garlic by removing dirt and the outer most paper. Each papers are dry leaves. If the papers are thin, or few, and the cloves have separated, use these for cooking first as they won’t store very well.
- Cut stem and roots.
- Store in a cool dry location. I have kept garlic in my kitchen cupboards where I keep other herbs and spices.
- Save your best bulbs to plant in the fall.
It’s worth dedicating a little space in your urban farmscape for garlic, or even try other edible bulbs like scallions . You will find that they are easy to grow, and that the most flavorful garlic will come from the unique varieties that you grow. One of my favorites was given to me by a friend years ago, and I have been growing it ever since. I don’t know anything other than it is a hardneck variety, similar to Chesnok Red or Music. Deliciososo! A one-time small investment by you and then shared each year as a gift to friends will provide you with a lifetime of garlic and happy friends. I am going to pickle some garlic this year for the first time. Anyone have a good recipe they would be willing to share?