It’s garlic planting time. If you live in the North, October 1 is ideal as it allows your garlic time to establish enough root development to make it through the winter.
There are a number of varieties from which to choose, but all fall into two main categories—softneck or hardneck. Softneck garlic keeps a bit longer and can be braided, if that’s important. Hardneck garlic has larger, easy-to-peel cloves and
more full-bodied flavor.
Choose a location with good drainage and work in well-rotted manure or worm castings. But don’t overdo it. Better none than too much. Make rows about ten to twelve inches or more apart. Then separate your seed heads into cloves, using the largest and best, and poke them in, flat end down, pointed end up, two or more inches inches deep, but about four to six inches apart and cover with soil.
Next, pile on a thick layer of hay or straw to protect your garlic through the long, cold winter. The farther north, the thicker. In spring, pull back some of the mulch to let the plants peek through, but leave enough to protect the soil from drying out. If you forget, the garlic will make its way through the mulch anyway.
Garlic will come up early, sometimes right through the snow, cheering your gardening spirit and efforts along. Keep it well mulched and water as needed, but not too much, as garlic doesn’t like mud.
If you planted a hardneck variety, your garlic will shoot up flowering stalks in mid-summer. When they rise above the leaves, snap them off so your heads can grow larger. You can snip them into salads and soups. If you have a large crop,
you can chop and freeze the excess in bags or jars for later use.
About the first week in August or when the leaves begin to dry, your garlic will be ready to harvest. There should still be five or six green leaves on the plant. Check first by digging a bulb to make sure the cloves have divided and have good wrappers. Dig rather than pull. Gently brush or shake off dirt. Do not cut stems or wash the garlic. Rather, bundle in groups of about eight and hang from nails or rafters or on a line suspended inside a room or shed out of direct sunlight. Let hang about three weeks. If humidity is high you might need to run fans to help the curing process.
After curing you can cut the stalks an inch or two from the bulbs, trim the roots, and brush off any dirt, taking care not to hurt the papery wrappers. Store in net bags such as oranges or onions come in, or lay in boxes and store in a cool room. Your garlic will keep for months.
Before putting your garlic heads into storage, though, save your best, firmest, healthiest heads for planting the next crop.
Near spring, if you still have good heads, peel the cloves, store in bags or jars in the freezer. Or simply store whole heads in bags to freeze. This makes peeling so simple, you’ll be tempted to throw all your garlic in the freezer. But resist the temptation! There’s nothing like fresh garlic for taste or for your health!
Have a great garlic crop!