Extension Educator, Horticulture
Probably no other herb has had as many devoted followers throughout history as garlic. In medieval times garlic was generally eaten as a vegetable and not just as a flavoring as most people do today. Garlic has been prescribed medicinally since prebiblical times. And even today there is great interest in garlic as a medicine.
Garlic was once thought to have magical powers and could ward off evil spirits. A necklace of garlic supposedly kept away vampires. Maybe vampires and evil spirits just have a low tolerance for bad breath. Although a hearty meal of garlic might keep one or two trick or treaters away, the flavor of garlic is what keeps people coming back for more.
Mid-September through mid-October is garlic planting time. Garlic needs to be planted at least one month before the soil freezes. In fall the bulbs root and begin to sprout before cold weather and continue growth the next season.
Spring planting is possible but it will not produce the large bulbs as with fall planting. Garlic is started by planting small cloves that are divisions of the large bulb. The larger the clove, the larger the size of the mature bulb at harvest. Do not divide the bulb until immediately before planting.
Several garlic varieties are available. Each falls into two main categories, softnecks and hardnecks. Softnecks are the common ones found in grocery stores. They are known for their long keeping qualities of up to one year. Hardnecks are known for their robust flavor. Each is worthy of growing in the garden. Elephant garlic is not a true garlic but a type of leek that forms a pungent bulb that tastes like and resembles a garlic bulb.
Garlic grows best in loose loam soils that are fertile and high in organic matter. Apply 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet at planting time or use organic fertilizers such as blood meal. Reports indicate good results fertilizing with soybean meal, a high protein livestock supplement using a rate of 30 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. Also incorporate compost or other organic matter. Mulch with straw after planting.
Although some people have had good luck planting the garlic from the grocery store, seedstock from a nursery is recommended. The flavorful varieties available from catalogs are fun for a new taste treat. Also the grocery varieties are sometimes sprayed to prevent sprouting. Plant cloves 3-5 inches apart with points up and cover to a depth of one to two inches. Allow 18 to 30 inches between rows or plant five inches apart in all directions if using raised beds. The beauty of planting your own garlic is it will reward you ten fold. Plant one pound of cloves and get ten pounds of bulbs.
New bulb formation occurs in June. Bulbs should be dug when the tops start to yellow usually in July or August. Do not wait until all leaves are browned but harvest when about five green leaves remain. Place bulbs on screen trays to dry in a cool well-ventilated dark place. Bulbs can be braided or bunched with twine and hung to complete drying. Mature bulbs will generally keep for months if stored in cool dry dark area.
Sources of garlic seedstock:
Seeds of Change
PO Box 15700
Santa Fe, New Mexico87506-5700
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Foss Hill Rd.
Albion, Maine 04910
Phone (207) 437-4301
Shepherd's Garden Seeds
6116 Highway 9
Felton, California 95018
Nichols Garden nursery, Inc (specialize in elephant garlic)
1190 North Pacific Highway
Albany, Oregon 97321
Phone (503) 928-9280