We really hope you enjoy eating our garlic and hope you decide to also grow it for yourself. It can be a life=long experience since the garlic you bought this year can be with you and your family and friends for years and even generations. Garlic (Allium sativum var.) has been cultivated for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal purposes. A member of the allium family which includes onions, leeks and shallots, garlic is a true underground bulb that replicates through bubblier division, with varieties that can be grown throughout the nation, and in most parts of the world. Each garlic plant has a single head that contains between 4 and 20 cloves. Each clove will produce a genetically identical bulb (with 4 to 20 cloves) when planted and properly tended. While it is possible to use seeds for reproduction, that is a multi-year process that is probably best left to experts or the very young.
While there are 2 types and 10 distinct groups of garlic, there are hundreds of varieties including:
The ideal time to plant garlic is in the fall, so it can experience the cold of winter and be ready to grow vigorously during the long days of June. We recommend planting no earlier than Columbus day (early October) nor later than mid November, ideally it should be planted about a week or two after after the first killing frost. If the winter is expected to be mild or warm, or if there is an extended Indian summer, this date should be pushed back. NEVER PLANT IN WET SOIL, and remember it is normally better to postpone planting rather than moving your planting date forward. The reason we plant in the fall is to allow the garlic time to establish a root system before the ground becomes hard frozen down where the cloves will reside. Don't worry if you see small sprouts emerging in early winter; your garlic will survive. Most hardnecks will tolerate at least 2 early killing freezes; it’s the 3rd that should raise concern. Once winter hits, you won't see much happening till spring. After the garlic is fully emerged, it will focus on bulb development. We find that mulching allows you to plant a bit earlier or later because it moderates soil temperatures and moisture and protects tender sprouts. That said, we also have learned that mulch should be removed from rows after the last killing frost to let the plant breathe, reduce moisture that can encourage fungus and reduce the occurrence of ingrown stalks.
While this will vary based on your location, the traditional garlic grower’s calendar for the mid-Atlantic area is:
Step 1: Garlic is most easily grown from cloves, rather than seed. Buy your garlic bulbs from Enon Valley Garlic or another reliable source and don’t use garlic from the grocery store as they are often treated with growth inhibitors to prevent sprouting. (They are also very boring even when grown in your garden).
Step 2: Break each head of garlic into separate cloves. Use the larger ones for planting and the smaller ones for eating. You should not separate your cloves too early as they will dry out faster when you remove some of the outer wrappers. A week or so isn't going to be a problem as long as you have them stored in a cool, well-ventilated location. For a real boost, the day before planting soak the ready-to-plant cloves in liquid kelp ( 3-4 TBS liquid kelp and 1 TBS baking soda per gallon of water) overnight. The next day plant your cloves as usual.
If you are worried about planting cloves from an unknown or suspicious source, you can soak your cloves in white vinegar for 2-3 minutes prior to planting.
Step 3: Locate your garlic patch where it will receive full sun. It’s also important to have well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Compost is a great soil conditioner and will help both with drainage and organic matter. For best results, the soil pH should be between six and eight.
Step 4: Cover each clove with 1-2 inches of soil ( warmer climates - less, colder climates - a bit more). YES, there is a top and bottom. The pointed end is up and the broader end is down. Spacing can be as close as 3 inches (small bulbs) and as wide as 5 inches (maybe 6-7 for Elephant). You should adjust the distance based on the size of the bulbs you are planting. Garlic root systems do not feed beyond about 1 inch outside the space occupied by the fully grown bulb, so they can be planted fairly close together relative to many other plants, but the heads should never be so close that they would touch each other when fully developed.
Step 5: Cover the cloves with soil followed by 2”- 4” of mulch to prevent extremes or rapid changes in temperature and moisture, and as a barrier to weeds. The better your drainage the deeper you can mulch. Less than optimal drainage should not be mulched more than 2-3 inches. Try to avoid large leaves or leaves from unknown sources, as they my have come from diseased trees.
Step 6: Expect to see sprouts in March or April. The mulch is less important from this time onward and can be removed if you like as it has done its job of insulating your cloves, but won't be a problem if left in place either. If removed it can still be used to keep weeds down around the sides of your plants or between rows. Garlic leaves are long and flowing, and while they aren’t showy, they blend in nicely in a flower or herb garden.
Harvest should start about the 4th of July and could extend into early August, depending on the weather. Stop watering about two weeks before harvest and avoid harvesting when the soil is still wet. When to stop watering and harvest is a skill that grows with practice and experience and will vary by type. You can always dig one up and see if it's done.
Step 1: As the bulb matures, the leaves will begin to turn brown. When about 2/3 of the leaves are brown, carefully scrape back the soil to inspect a few cloves. You want good-sized bulbs with strong wrappers. Each bulb should have well defined cloves, not a single onion-like structure. You can also cut one open to see if the bulbs fill out the skins nicely. If your bulbs are starting to split open, you’re almost too late and should harvest immediately. We have found that softneck varieties and rocamboles ripen faster than other hardnecks but that is not always true???.
Step 2: Using a fork, carefully loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs. Then lift them out by hand, gently brushing off excess soil. Be careful not to break the skins or bruise the bulbs. Leave the roots and stems attached.
Step 3: Tie in bundles of 10-12 bulbs, and hang them in a well-ventilated, shady room for several weeks or simply arrange single layers on a well ventilated surface.
Step 4: IMPORTANT: You want to continuously improve your crop, so set aside your largest heads now. Just as we don't sell our best heads, you too should save your best bulbs for next year's crop. Doing otherwise will result in a steady diminution in your harvest. There's no need to clean the bulbs you will be planting, nor those you will be eating until they are to be used. They will be best preserved by doing no more than removing the dirt and trimming back a bit. After curing (drying) they should be stored in a cool, dark place with 30%-60% humidity till it’s time to plant or eat. (NOT A REFRIGERATOR)
Step 5: After they’ve dried, you can cut the stems down to 1-3 inches and trim the roots, but don't start removing wrappers (papery skins) till you need to.
Garlic is best stored in a very cool (34º to 50º F) basement or cold cellar that has 30- 60% humidity. Properly stored garlic should last between 4 and 9 months. The softstems and racomboles will tend to store longer, so eat the others first. You can also dehydrate, pickle or freeze cleaned garlic. There is additional information on maximizing the heath benefits and storage life of your garlic here.
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Enon Valley Garlic Company