Garlic will grow under a wide variety of soil conditions. It is said to prefer free draining loam with lots of organic matter. Building up your soil with green manure cover crops as part of your normal crop rotation is good practice. We like to get all our amendments into the soil before planting. Compost and composted manure are popular choices. We use alfalfa meal and a small amount of ground fish bones.
Garlic bulbs develop best in well-drained soils, since overly wet conditions may lead to rot. Working a 5-10-10 fertilizer blend and compost into the bed prior to planting helps improve the nutrition in the bed so the sprouted garlic continues to grow well. Dense soils cause bulbs to form poorly, but tilling and breaking up the top 8 inches of the bed provides a finer soil bed for the bulbs to develop in. If your soil temperatures stay warm, store the garlic in a cool, dry place, 7 – 10°C (45 – 50°F), for about three weeks before planting.
Selecting Your Seed
We select our own seed first so that each year our average production is improving. We choose bulbs with a nice shape and plump cloves. In general, clove size is more important than bulb size as a determinant of future bulb size.
It takes new seed stock several years to adapt to your growing conditions. For this reason we recommend that growers invest in modest quantities of excellent seed stock and multiply it up in their own fields. We have had good success growing garlic up from bulbils. For details see our page on growing from bulbils.
Preparing Cloves for Planting
Shortly before planting break the bulbs apart into cloves. This is called ‘cracking’. The cloves are attached to the basal plate, the plate that the roots grow from. When you crack the bulb each clove should break away cleanly, leaving an image of a ‘footprint’ on the basal plate. With true hard neck garlic you can crack them by giving the woody stem a sharp rap on a hard surface. The root nodules begin growing from edge of the foot of the clove. If the basal plate stays attached to the clove you may be able to flick it off. Be careful not to damage the foot of the clove. It is more important to keep the clove intact than to remove the basal plate.
Set aside the very small cloves to eat soon, to make into pickles, to dry, or to plant tightly together for eating in the spring, like green onions. Each larger clove will produce a good sized bulb by the end of the growing season. The smallest cloves require just as much space, care and attention in the garden and produce significantly smaller bulbs.
Growing garlic at home is easy and rewarding. Garlic is easy to grow as well as being nutritious and delicious. A single clove grows into an entire bulb of many cloves, which can each be planted to grow many more bulbs, making garlic a self-sustaining crop. Harvest your garlic for culinary and medicinal purposes, while keeping some cloves aside to propagate next year’s crop. Once your soil is ready, prepare your cloves for planting, and enjoy fresh, home-grown garlic year after year.
How to Plant Garlic Bulbs
Planting garlic bulbs is as simple as breaking up the cloves, planting each clove separately, and letting the greens sprout. Harvest garlic when the greens have turned yellow with helpful information from a sustainable gardener in this free video on growing food.
In mild regions, plant the cloves in well-prepared soil spacing them 10cm apart. Simply push the cloves into the soil so that the tip of each one is just below the surface. Cover them with cloches in frosty weather.
In cold areas and to speed up the growth rate of the crop, plant the cloves in divided seed trays of multi-purpose compost. Water well and place trays in a cool greenhouse or cold frame to grow on
Garlic plants grown in trays will be ready to plant out in March or April. Use a trowel to make a hole and set the plants at the same level as they were growing in the trays.
Keep garlic well watered during dry weather. If it’s dry for long periods, the cloves will not swell and the resulting crop will have a short storage life.