Garlic, an ancient crop beloved for its flavor and medicinal properties, has been cultivated for thousands of years. Its unique taste and myriad of health benefits have made it a favorite among cooks and gardeners alike. Even better, it's relatively easy to grow, making it a perfect addition to any home garden or small farm operation.
One of the first crops I grew on the homestead was garlic because of how easy it is! I moved to my homestead in the fall, which is the perfect time to plant garlic. I purchased some garlic bulbs from a local nursery, popped them in the ground, waited out the winter, and watched them grow spring through summer until it was time to harvest!
Garlic is one of the easiest crops you can grow in your garden. Trust me, I know. Let’s dive into the history of garlic, how to choose the best variety for you, and how to successfully plant garlic.
History of Garlic
Our story begins in Central Asia, where garlic was first domesticated over 5,000 years ago. Traders and travelers took it around the world, and before long, garlic was seasoning dishes on every continent. From there, its cultivation spread across various civilizations, from the Egyptians and Greeks to the Chinese and Indians, each one discovering its unique attributes. This rich history has resulted in a diverse array of garlic varieties, each with its own unique flavor profile and growing characteristics.
Until I began researching how to plant garlic, I didn’t know that there was a wide variety of garlics. Yes, there are more varieties than the plain garlic you get at every grocery store! Garlic varies in size and taste, all thinks to its wonderful history and our ancestors cultivating this wonderful crop.
Importance of Garlic
Today, garlic remains a staple in kitchens worldwide. Besides its culinary uses, garlic is also renowned for its health benefits, including boosting the immune system and reducing heart disease risk. Many people also regard garlic as a natural remedy for a host of ailments, given its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. Its potent active compound, allicin, is responsible for many of these health-boosting properties, furthering garlic's reputation as a superfood.
Isn’t it neat that you can grow your own medicine in your backyard?
Choosing the Right Garlic Variety
Before you embark on your garlic growing journey, it's crucial to choose the right variety. Depending on your taste preference and your region's climate, some varieties will perform better than others. Garlic comes in hundreds of different varieties, each with unique flavors, clove sizes, and coloration, so there's certainly a type of garlic out there to suit every palate and gardening situation.
If you're a beginner, you might want to start with softneck garlic. It's easy to grow, stores well, and is very versatile in cooking. Softneck garlic varieties also tend to have more cloves per bulb, and their softer stems make them perfect for braiding and storing. Softneck garlic is also the type most commonly found in supermarkets due to its long shelf life and robust flavor.
One thing to consider with softneck vs. hardneck garlic is your climate. If you live in a warmer climate, softneck is the way to go. If you live in a cooler climate, like me, hardneck is a better option. You can experiment with both in your climate but these are general attributes of both. I have done only hardneck garlic in my garden, and I have been extremely happy!
If you research online, some places will say to try hardneck garlic if you want a challenge. In my experience, hardneck garlic has been incredibly easy to grow, so don’t let this rumor deter you. I plant in the fall, forget about it, and harvest it the next summer. Hardneck varieties offer unique flavors and larger cloves, though they may not store as long as softneck varieties. However, hardneck garlic has a bonus: it produces scapes, or flower stalks, which are edible and delicious. Hardneck varieties are particularly suited to colder climates where the plants can undergo vernalization, a process which ensures proper bulb development.
Preparing for Planting
Next, it's time to prepare for planting. Proper preparation will ensure your garlic plants have the best start, increasing your chances of a bountiful harvest. Garlic is a plant that appreciates a well-prepared bed, so taking the time to get your planting area ready will pay off in the long run.
When to Plant Garlic
In most regions, the best time to plant garlic is in the fall, about six weeks before the first hard frost. This allows the cloves to establish roots before the ground freezes. However, if you live in a mild climate, you can plant garlic in early spring. Regardless of when you plant, remember that garlic requires a period of cold stratification for optimal growth, so make sure your cloves experience some cool temperatures.
Garlic prefers well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Before planting, enrich your soil with compost or aged manure. The additional organic matter will improve soil structure, provide nutrients for your garlic, and aid in water retention. Ideally, the soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, consider amending it with lime or sulfur respectively to bring the pH into the ideal range for garlic growth. It is also important to rotate where you plant the garlic from year to year. If you don’t have the garden space for rotation, make sure to amend your soil after every harvest to prepare it for the next planting.
Now, let's get your garlic in the ground. Planting garlic is straightforward and doesn't require special tools, making it a great beginner's crop. It's a hands-on process that can be a fun and educational activity for the whole family, especially children who are just getting their start in gardening.
How to Plant Garlic
Break apart the garlic bulb into individual cloves, keeping the papery skin intact. Plant each clove 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart, with the pointed end facing up. This gives the plants ample room to grow and reduces the risk of disease transmission between plants. The cloves should be planted relatively deeply to protect them from the harsh winter temperatures and ensure proper root development. I have a video of me planting hardneck garlic, which you can watch here.
Caring for Your Garlic Plants
Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Mulch can help retain soil moisture and deter weeds. In the spring, remove the mulch to allow the soil to warm up. Also, keep an eye out for pests and diseases, and take action if you spot any issues. Regular care and observation of your garlic plants will help you spot any potential problems early, ensuring a healthy, hearty harvest.
Harvesting and Storing Garlic
As your garlic matures, you'll need to know how to harvest and store it properly. The trick is to harvest at the right time and allow the bulbs to cure properly for long-term storage. Properly harvested and stored garlic can provide you with a delicious, homegrown supply of this culinary staple well into the winter months.
When and How to Harvest Garlic
When the lower leaves turn brown but the top leaves are still green, it's time to harvest your garlic. Gently loosen the soil with a fork and pull up the bulbs. Be careful not to damage them, as this can affect their storage life. Remember, garlic has a delicate outer skin that can bruise easily, compromising its freshness. Garlic should be harvested on a dry day, as excess moisture can lead to problems during the curing process.
How to Store Garlic
After harvesting, let your garlic bulbs cure in a well-ventilated, shady spot for two weeks. Once the skins are dry, you can store them in a cool, dry place for several months. Properly stored garlic will retain its flavor and nutritional benefits for quite a while, allowing you to enjoy your homegrown garlic long after the growing season has ended. Consider storing your garlic in mesh bags or loosely woven baskets to provide adequate airflow and prevent mold and mildew.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Like any plant, garlic can sometimes run into problems. Understanding these challenges is key to ensuring a healthy harvest. Fortunately, garlic is generally a low-maintenance crop, but it can sometimes fall prey to pests and diseases. By knowing what to watch for, you can quickly address these issues and keep your plants healthy.
Common pests include onion thrips and nematodes. Companion planting with crops like carrots can help deter these pests. Regularly inspecting your garlic plants can help you catch any pest problems early before they cause significant damage. If you notice pests on your garlic plants, consider using an organic pest control method, such as introducing beneficial insects or applying a homemade garlic or pepper spray.
Garlic is susceptible to several diseases, including white rot and rust. Rotating your crops each year can help prevent these issues. Crop rotation helps to break disease cycles and improve soil health, leading to more robust garlic plants. Also, make sure to clean your garden tools between uses to prevent the spread of disease. If disease does appear, remove and dispose of the affected plants to prevent it from spreading to your other garlic plants or different crops in your garden.
Growing garlic is a rewarding endeavor that offers a wealth of benefits. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction of growing your own food, but you'll also reap the health benefits of this potent plant. So why wait? With a little patience and care, you can cultivate a garlic crop that will enhance your culinary adventures and boost your wellness. Garlic is one of my favorite homestead garden crops because of how easy it is!
Growing your own garlic allows you to experience the full array of flavors that different garlic varieties offer, many of which are not available in standard grocery stores. Plus, there's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from harvesting a crop you've grown from start to finish. So get out there, get your hands dirty, and start your garlic garden today!
Can I grow garlic from a grocery store bulb?
Yes, you can, although it may not grow as well due to possible disease or unsuitability to your local climate. For the best results, consider sourcing your garlic from a local nursery or a reputable online seed supplier.
It's also worth noting that some grocery store garlic is treated to prevent sprouting, which can affect its ability to grow. Always look for organic garlic for planting, as it's less likely to have been treated with sprouting inhibitors.
When should I water my garlic?
Water your garlic when the top inch of soil feels dry, and reduce watering as the bulbs mature. Overwatering can lead to waterlogged soil and potential rot issues, so it's better to err on the side of underwatering.
On the flip side, not watering your garlic enough, particularly during dry periods, can lead to smaller bulbs. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil is dry, giving a deep watering to reach the garlic's roots.
Can garlic be grown in containers?
Absolutely! Just make sure your container is deep enough for the roots and has good drainage. Garlic is an excellent candidate for container gardening, allowing you to grow it even if you don't have much space.
Growing garlic in containers can also be a good solution if you're dealing with a pest problem in your garden, as it allows for more controlled growing conditions.
Do I need to fertilize my garlic?
While garlic can grow in poor soil, it will do best with regular feeding. Use a balanced organic fertilizer for best results. Regular fertilizing ensures your garlic plants receive all the necessary nutrients to grow and produce bulbs.
Consider using a slow-release fertilizer at planting time, followed by regular feeding with a liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
Why isn't my garlic forming bulbs?
This can be due to several factors, including insufficient daylight, overwatering, or nutrient deficiencies. If your garlic plants are struggling, consider seeking advice from a local extension service or experienced gardener.
Also, keep in mind that different garlic varieties form bulbs at different times, so it might just be a matter of waiting a bit longer. Patience is key when growing garlic!