How to Grow a Year-Round Supply of Garlic
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I am a garlic addict. Seriously, folks, I could eat garlic in every dish for every meal every day. So growing garlic in our garden is a no-brainer. Plus – growing garlic is easy – the garlic clove serves as the seed and miraculously turns into a full new head.
Even better, If you grow your own garlic you get a regular cycle going and you’ll never have to buy seed garlic again.
Here are some tips for creating your own year-round garlic supply:
Step One ~ Calculate how much garlic you need to grow
In order to have a year-round supply of garlic you need to plant enough to grow your “eating garlic” and your “seed garlic.” Seed garlic is the garlic that you’ll set aside at harvest time to plant that fall to become next year’s harvest.
Determining how many cloves to plant takes a little bit of math, but once you figure it out you’ve got an equation you can use year-after-year.
Here are the equations you’ll need to use:
Total # cloves to plant = desired # eating heads + (seed garlic: desired # eating heads / 4)
Total # heads to buy = Total # cloves to plant / 4
In other words, to determine how many cloves to plant in your garden this fall, you need to decide how many heads you want to have for eating. Then, you need to plant enough to have that number of cloves again for next year’s seed garlic.
Since garlic is sold in heads, not cloves, you then do a quick calculation to determine how many heads to buy (we use the number 4 as the average number of cloves per head – it can vary by variety).
Step 2 ~ Choose your garlic varieties
We’ve set aside and labeled our seed garlic of 9 varieties.
Did you know that according to the website mmmgarlic.com (bookmarking that one!) there are at least 600 named varieties of garlic? Endless possibilities.
You can usually find seed garlic at your local gardening store, but it is also fun to ask other homesteaders if they have seed garlic of differing varieties. You can trade or purchase garlic from them to mix things up. We highly recommend trying a few types to see how they grow, store, and taste.
There are also a variety of online sellers who offer seed garlic; be sure to read reviews and make sure you are buying from a reputable company to get the best quality product.
Step 3 ~ Determine when plant your garlic
Though garlic can be planted in early spring in warmer climates, most experienced gardening experts recommend planting in the winter. When the garlic goes through winter frosts and freezes, it develops a strong root system that will help it to rapidly expand into a head the next spring and summer.
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends planting garlic 6-8 weeks before the average first frost. In Vermont (zone 5 or so) we plant around Halloween. Use this handy tool from the Farmer’s Almanac to determine your first frost date if you don’t know it off hand.
Step 4 ~ Prepare a location for planting your garlic
Plant garlic every 4-6 inches in rows about 1 foot apart.
Garlic prefers to grow in full sun, preferably in a nice sandy, well-drained soil. If your soil is wet or drains poorly, consider building a raised bed to ensure that moisture does not get trapped and rot the garlic over the winter.
You’ll need to plant garlic 4-6 inches apart, with rows spaced about 1 foot apart. Now that you know how much garlic you want to plant, you can calculate how much space you’ll need. For example, our rows of garlic are about 10 feet long, which means we can plant about 25 plants per row. This means we’ll need about 5 rows spaced one foot apart plus a border. So, we need about a 10 x 6-foot area in our garden.
If you’re doing this amount in raised beds, we’d recommend two beds, each about 3 feet wide, so that its easier to get to the garlic in the middle for weeding and cutting garlic scapes (the fun twirly shoots that pop up in early summer and give you an early taste of your garlic!).
Step 5 ~ Plant your garlic and dream about your harvest
Planting is easy – simply separate the heads of garlic into cloves and plant about 2 inches deep (4-6 inches apart, as described above), with the “pointy” end up. If you are using a variety of garlic types, don’t forget to label your rows so you can keep track.
Come spring, remove the mulch and, once some leaves have formed on the garlic, amend the bed with some compost or light treatment of fertilizer.After planting in the fall, cover your bed with a thick layer of mulch to protect the garlic and keep the bed evenly moist. You can use hay or straw, and we have also had success with a nice thick layer of fall leaves.
Your first harvest will be garlic scapes, which are delicious – usually in early summer. Your garlic will be ready to harvest when the bottom of the leaves turn yellow (in zone 5 that happens around late July).
Check out The Happy Hive’s article on harvesting, curing, and storing garlic for more information on what to do when your bounty is ready to be harvested!