Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Weekly Crop Update 10-21-14
By Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension, Adams/Brown/Hancock/Pike/Schuyler
If you're like many people, you occasionally consume garlic, but not to any great extent. However an increasing segment of the population is finding out how to utilize this herb in many dishes and now is the time to consider it's planting in your garden. Garlic is planted as a clove in October or November, allowed to overwinter, and then pulled as a mature plant in early summer.
The secret to a successful planting is timing. You want to ensure the plant gets adequate growth for successful overwintering, but not too much growth as it won't survive. Many folks have found that planting during late October works well. Although last year a local producer planted in late November, and even with the severe winter, the harvest was an excellent one. If you haven't done so, now is the time to order your bulbs, before the good ones are sold out. Or you can save your own using the largest bulbs from which to take cloves. As a general rule, the larger the clove, the larger the resulting bulb.
There are several varieties to recommend, including Spanish Roja, Carpathian, and Music. Music is reported to have a milder taste (not as hot). There are both soft neck and hard neck varieties. Soft neck is grown in the southern part of the US, and is the type found in the grocery store. You'll want to grow hard neck as the soft neck will not survive our winters. So don't try and grow store bought cloves as they'll not survive our winter.
Plant the clove between 3-4" deep and spaced from 4-6" apart in the row. Rows can be from 15-30" apart, depending upon space available, equipment, etc. Place the tip upwards. When separating the cloves from the bulb, do so immediately before planting so cloves don't dry out unnecessarily. Add 1-2# of a general fertilizer, such as 12-12-12, per 100 square feet prior to planting. You may want to add some straw mulch to help with weed control as garlic plants are not very competitive. Allow the plant to grow until dormancy.
Next spring, as the plant grows, you'll notice leaves forming and the last "leaf" to emerge will form a curling leaf, which if allowed to mature, will contain aerial bulblets (called bulbil). That leaf is called a scape. You'll want to cut these out (you can use in cooking or discard them). Allowing them to remain on the plant can decrease bulb size by up to 20%.
Harvest before all the leaves die down, preferably when there are 4-6 leaves remaining green. Dig them from the soil, using a fork or spade or other device to lift the soil. Shake off excess soil from the bulb and allow it to dry. Do not wash the soil off but gently remove as much soil as possible by hand. Dry in a cool, well-ventilated area out of the sun for 4 weeks or so. Then you can trim off tops and remove the outer few layers of skin/dirt.
Save the biggest bulbs for next year's seed. The above information was taken from a presented by Kyle Cecil, U of I Extension.