1. What Type Of Garlic To Plant
Type: In cold climates like ours here in Canada, we typically stick to hardneck varieties of garlic. These varieties can survive our harsh winters and will provide garlic scapes to harvest in the late spring, and garlic to harvest in the summer.
Tip: Buy garlic for planting from a local nursery or farmers market (not the grocery store, as these are typically softneck varieties, and are often treated, which means they won't sprout well). Over the years you will use your homegrown garlic to plant your next year's crop.
2. Prepping For Planting
Soil Prep: Garlic likes fertile well-drained soil (pH 6-7) free from rocks, roots and stems, so raised beds work particularly well. Raking your soil thoroughly and incorporating compost a few days or weeks before planting is ideal. A little nitrogen rich fertilizer can also be added, but it's always best to test your soil when possible to see what it needs. Make sure not to pack the soil down by stepping on it or compacting it with tools.
Clove Prep: Crack open the garlic head at the stem, so you can separate the cloves without removing their individual skin. Each garlic clove will be planted (skin on) and grow into a new garlic head, with 4-10 cloves.
3. Planting Garlic
When: Garlic is typically planted in mid-late autumn. A good rule of thumb is around the 1st frost, or about 3 weeks before the ground freezes. You want the garlic to have enough time to germinate and sprout under the earth, but not enough time to pop through the earth and begin to grow. Exact timing will vary by region and annual weather conditions.
Planting: Set each clove in the ground, pointy end up, 4-6” apart, in rows 8-12" apart (you can stagger rows to fit more in). Since garlic cloves vary in size the rule is typically to plant each clove at a depth of approximately 3-4x's the length of the clove. eg. if clove is 1" long, plant it at a depth of 3-4" (in warmer climates 1-2" is typical). After planting, water once gently, so as not to disrupt planting position. This will help start the germination process before garlic goes dormant for the winter.
Tip: In cold climates, once planted add a 4-8" leaf or straw mulch on top to provide winter protection.
4. Spring Garlic Care
When: Once the risk of frost has passed remove the layer of mulch you applied in the fall. Soon you'll start to see your garlic plants popping through the ground. Yay!
Tip: To get the largest garlic possible, fertilize early in the spring by side dressing with a little nitrogen rich fertilizer. (We have skipped this step many years, and still had amazing garlic. So don't panic if you forget, or don't want to.)
Maintenance: Water as needed (garlic does not like soaked soil), remove any debris (to prevent rot and pests), and keep weeded.
5. Harvesting Garlic Scapes
When: Hardneck varieties of garlic produce scapes that are edible and ready for harvest in the late spring/early summer. Scapes grow straight out of the garlic bulb and then curl. You know it's time to harvest when the top of the plant with the flower bulb has created their distinct curly cue, but before they straighten out again.
How: To harvest simply cut or snap off the garlic scape from the garlic stem at the leaf level. Scapes are wonderful in pestos, sauces, scrambled eggs, dressings etc.
Why: It's important to harvest scapes on hardneck varieties. If scapes are not removed they will draw energy out of the bulb, resulting in smaller and less flavourful garlic.
6. Harvesting Garlic
When: You will know it's time to harvest your garlic when the top foliage is mainly yellowish brown and falling over (but not totally dried out). This is usually mid-July to early-August depending on location.
To Harvest: Loosen the soil with a garden fork or spade and then grasp the garlic plant at the base of the stem and pull up gently. Be careful not to bend the stem or bruise the garlic. Brush off any excess dirt gently.
Tip: If you're unsure if it's time to harvest only dig up 1 or 2 garlic heads to check before harvesting the whole crop.
Note: If the bulbs are left in the ground too long, they can begin to split apart and they will not store as well over the winter.
7. Curing Garlic
Curing: After harvesting your garlic plants, allow them to dry in the sun for a few hours and then move them to a cool dry place for 2-3 weeks with stems intact (hang or lay flat).
Tip: Once cured (roots feel brittle and dry) bring your garlic outside to clean it off. It's a very messy process.
8. Cleaning Garlic
Trimming: Cut down stems with sharp scissors. Keep in mind that shorter stems around 1" are less likely to pierce other skins during storage, but longer stems around 2" make it easier to crack apart for replanting in fall.
Cleaning: Gently brush off any dirt from the garlic head with your hands or a soft cloth/brush. Remove any loose papery bits, but make sure to keep the skin intact. Skin is the garlic's defence against rot and disease, and it will not last long if they get wet or the skin is damaged.
Tip: If any garlic becomes wet or damaged during cleaning, put it aside for early use.
Note: The largest cloves will make the largest heads, so always put your largest garlic aside for fall planting. Don't forget to leave their stems a bit long for easy cracking.
9. Storing Garlic
Storing: Store garlic in a cool dry environment. Do not refrigerate. If dried well it should last all season.
Tip: A wicker basket provides good air circulation and works well for storage.
Note: Warmth or dampness will cause garlic to sprout. Check stored garlic regularly and remove any sprouting or rotten heads immediately.