How to Grow Garlic
Growing garlic requires patience. Like sweet onions, I plant garlic in the fall and harvest the following summer. By my count, that’s about six months. UGH. Tough when you’re the gardener excited about growing and harvesting your garlic.
But once you make the decision and commit, you’ll be glad you did. Homegrown garlic is worth the wait. Here in Florida, I plant my bulbs in October, after I pre-soak them overnight in a baking soda-vinegar solution to prevent fungal diseases, about 1 TBSP of each per gallon of water. Some suggest the addition of liquid seaweed to the solution to encourage root growth, though I usually wait and use the seaweed to fertilize them once in the ground.
As with most vegetables in the garden, garlic prefers an organic-rich well-drained soil. If you live where it freezes, you’ll plant your bulbs in fall and mulch well, protecting the garlic and encouraging worms to hibernate with your bulbs. Plant your bulbs approx. 2” deep, root side down, tip up.
Plant your bulbs about six inches apart in well-tilled soil. These holes give you an idea of placement.
Garlic is a light feeder and prefers low watering, but don’t let them completely dry out. Again, a heavy layer of mulch will work wonders when it comes to a successful crop of garlic and proper moisture content. When selecting your fertilizer, remember that too much nitrogen will inhibit clove growth by directing the plant’s energy into growing beautiful leaves. You want a lovely array of green leaves, but not an overabundance. Think phosphorous. It’s the element that helps plants develop beautiful roots and blooms. And garlic is a member of the root family, so keep the phosphorous coming!
You’ll know it’s time to harvest your garlic leaves begin to die back. Dig gently around one of your plants and check the clove. If your bulbs aren’t as large as you’d like, go ahead and give your garlic a little while longer. No worries—this isn’t an exact science!
When satisfied, gingerly unearth your plants and pull your bulbs from the ground. You’ll want to cure garlic to ensure proper storage. Once harvested, spread the plants out on the ground or preferably a raised screen, allowing for proper air circulation throughout the drying process. This can take a week or two. They’re finished when the skins are dry and the necks tight.
In Florida, I lay mine out on a picnic table beneath a tree. It’s warm here and I don’t want to damage my garlic by exposing it to the heat. I’ll roast them in the oven, thank you. Cut the stems off and store in a cool dry place, or weave necks together and store in a hanging fashion!
Garlic is one of my favorite natural pesticides, though nematodes can be a problem, as can fungus. Horticultural cornmeal to the top of the soil (approx. 1 lb. per 100 sq. ft.) can help reducing nematode populations, as is growing broccoli or cabbage (brassicas) and then tilling the green plants under.
Grasshoppers can be a problem with the green tops. Use diatomaceous earth or organic-friendly bug spray to ward the hoppers off.
Good Companions: Beets, lettuce. Lettuce can shade the soil and keep it cool for your growing garlic.
Bad Companions: Bean, peas, potatoes.
Health Benefits: Garlic is well-known for its health benefits when it comes to the heart, because it can lower cholesterol and thin the blood, helping in the prevention of heart disease and strokes. But garlic is also said to block the growth of cancer cells. Studies show that consuming garlic can reduce your risk of stomach and colon cancer.
Other lesser known benefits are a reduction in ear infections due to garlic’s bacteria-killing ability, plus a boost in immunity. What I hear? Garlic is good. Grow it!