There is so much that is good, excellent, and even superb, regarding garlic that I would recommend the following suggestions:
- Ask your garlic-eating friends, why they eat it.
- Go online and search under these headings:
- Nutritional benefits of garlic
- Health benefits of garlic
- Medicinal uses and benefits of garlic.
If anyone is not convinced after doing the above searches, then they should start eating a clove or more every day and this, will convince you.
Things to Consider Regarding the Growing of Garlic
- Growing site:
No matter what size your garden or field that you plan to use to grow garlic, it should be three times the size you intend to plant. In this way you can rotate your fields or sections of your garden, or planter boxes or whatever you use. By rotation you prevent many problems from occurring that WILL occur if you do not rotate. DO NOT USE THE SAME SOIL YEAR AFTER YEAR OR YOU WILL INVITE SERIOUS PROBLEMS, like fungi and nematodes and many other small critters.
- Sunlight – there must be a minimum of 8 hours per day. More is better.
- Good drainage is a must. If necessary, mound up the soil 6" – 8" high to promote drainage. Garlic cannot stand wet feet. The clove can rot or the bulb might later develop root ROT.
- Flower pots. A series of flower pots full of good soil buried up to the neck in the ground can serve as a growing site.
- Plastic containers of rectangular shape can be used in the same manner but must be buried to the top of container.
- Old tires can be placed in a row and filled with good soil. Each tire will accommodate 10 – 12 garlic plants.
Amending (preparing) the soil
- Test your soil with a test kit for PH or have it tested.
- Incorporate manure(s) and cover crops (green manure), 6 weeks prior to planting. Also you can add: grass clippings, (nothing with herbicides or pesticides), dried leaves – chopped is best, wood chips are okay but not
- (Sawdust), shredded paper, kitchen scraps, or any garden or plant clippings without seeds, all animal manures (except dog or cat), pelletized lime. Gypsum, etc. Note: It would be wise to add something like sea-bird guano or blood meal or anything with a lot of nitrogen with the wood chips and the chopped leaves to help replace the nitrogen they will take from the soil during the process of becoming compost and humus in the soil.
Choosing how much to plant
- Spacing is important to planting garlic. In-row spacing should be no closer than 4". Spacing between rows should be no closer than 8".
- One acre of garlic using 4" spacing in-row and 30" rows will require between 40,000 – 45,000 cloves or approximately 600 to 800 pounds of garlic bulbs. A suggestion: start small. If you intend to grow garlic to sell, plant no more than ¼ acre your first year. Garlic is labor intensive and requires approximately 20 to 25 human interventions from planting to selling.
Choosing a garlic type
- There are 11 basic kinds of garlic by DNA the experts say. But there are over 600 sub-varieties that have developed due to garlics great adaptability to many growing conditions. The same garlic grown in Ohio or other States will often taste differently and have different coloration due to mineral variations in the soil.
- Two basic types of garlic are hard neck and soft neck. Hard neck garlic will develop a flower top set with miniature bulblets or bubils. Soft neck garlic will occasionally develop bubils under stressful conditions but not normally. There are a greater number of hard neck garlics than there are soft neck garlics. The hard necks offer a greater variety of flavors and spiciness (heat). The soft necks generally store better than hard necks due to more and thicker wrappers on the bulb. I suggest you grow some of each. The hard necks generally have fewer but generally larger cloves than soft necks. The hard necks grow better in colder climates in general. You can find garlics that grow in all areas of the United States.
Preparing the seed (cloves)
- Normally planting large cloves will produce large bulbs. Small cloves will commonly give you smaller bulbs. But a good garlic grower can plant a medium size clove and grow it into a large size because he has developed the ideal conditions in which garlic can grow large.
- Spacing also determines results:
Planting in flower pots and planters, you can space your cloves as close as 3" apart because you can fertilize and water frequently. Planting in a garden or field requires wider spacing between cloves. Four inch spacing in the row will give good results, 5" spacing in the row will give you better results, 6" spacing in the row will give the best results. Row spacing will be determined to a degree by the mulch you use. Six inches between rows with plastic mulch, 12 inches between rows using leaves, grass clippings, or straw. Sixteen inch spacing between rows without mulch and then weeds will be kept free by cultivation by hand or tractor.
Planting the garlic
- Normally garlic is planted 2" – 3" deep, if dry conditions are common, 4" – 5" is better.
- Planting too shallow (an inch or less) can result in the garlic clove drying out or heaving (frost can push it out of the ground). This happens primarily when you plant late in the season (like November) then heaving is more common. Planting deeper or using mulch can prevent heaving. Note: if you plant garlic early enough in October or September in some areas, the roots will have taken hold and prevent frost heaving.
- Mark every row of garlic according to its name. Do it as soon as you finish planting a row. Sometimes you may have two, three or even four kinds of garlic in a long row. Each section of the row must be marked as to where garlic starts and stops. For example, if I plant four rows of German White garlic, I will mark on a 3/4-inch thick stick that is 2" wide and 16" long. Half of this length will be driven into the ground at the start of the row so I will mark it first by carefully printing in permanent black marker: 4 rows GERMAN WHITE and then mark two arrows, one pointing down the row, and the other pointing to the direction of the four rows. So I used only one stake for four rows. If I will plant four kinds of garlic in a long row, I will mark it thusly. The first stake will say: 75 cloves of Music. The second stake might be: 125 cloves of Chesnoch Red. This stake will be placed in the row where the German White cloves stop. The stake labels the garlic behind it. This is valid until another stake appears labeling the cloves behind it. You get the idea I hope. Then when you are finished, you make a map on heavy Manila paper that fits into your 3 ring binder or use a wire wound tablet just for mapping your garlic and don't lose this booklet. You never know what will happen. Deer can kick the stakes over or a jealous neighbor might pull them all out. This won't happen of course, but keep your garlic map in a safe place.
- Ditches (areas between rows): The best thing to do is to keep garlic weed free in the rows and on the mounds or ridges. Let grasses grow in ditches with raised beds but keep it 4" or less in length to prevent seeds. Cut with lawn mower or weed whip. This grassy path is pleasant to walk on and the grass will become compost when plowed under after harvest. Tractor cultivation to keep the weeds under control is another possibility if you can prevent hurting your garlic. Note, garlic roots are near the surface.
Even though you have amended the soil by incorporating pelletized lime, animal and green manures, it can only help to incorporate phosphorus, (bone meal is a good source). A teaspoon full of bone meal placed in the hole and mixed with the soil before the clove is planted, is an excellent idea because it promotes root growth. Plastic mulch requires holes to be punched through it and makes this more difficult but it is very helpful. If you push your cloves into loose soil by hand, you can put a half teaspoon of bone meal on top of the clove. Ideally, however, it should be mixed into the soil at the bottom of the hole first and then the clove is placed on top of it. Phosphorus makes the roots big and strong which gives the garlic a good start come spring.
When to plant
Note: any compost or green manure should be incorporated (tilled) into the soil six to 8 weeks prior to planting your cloves. If you plant in October, your amendments (stuff you added to promote loose, porous soil and nutrition) should be tilled under in July. In Ohio, we can plant starting the last week of September to the middle of October. Planting later or in November and even in December will give you a fair crop but the longer the garlic clove is in the soil the larger the bulb will be at harvest time. A full nine months in the soil, all things being equal, will generally produce the largest bulbs.
- Make sure soil is wet before mulching; this also applies to plastic mulch, because if the soil is dry, the mulch may prevent moisture from getting to your cloves and they will just set there until they get a drink. Mulch must be three to five inches thick. It can be grass, straw, hay (watch out for seedy hay) and these will not require extra nitrogen, but chopped leaves WILL take nitrogen from the soil and even from the rain that falls on the leaves. The leaves want to break down into compost and to do this they need nitrogen.
- Extra nitrogen can be added with a manure tea early in the spring when the garlic leaves are 3" high or more. Do not wait too long. You can make the liquid tea (which is bio-available and quickly sucked into the tender roots) from any manure or urine. I use alpaca, horse, or sea bird guano. The guano has the greatest amount of nitrogen. You can also use blood meal dry sprinkled around each plant, but this is not bio-available to the roots like manure tea is. if you can mix it thoroughly so you can apply it with a garden sprayer, it might be okay but blood meal, unless it is buried can attract certain critters and even dogs which might root up your garlic. Use your own judgment here. A tablespoon of this tea sprayed right on top of the emerging garlic leaves will give your garlic clove a jump start. You are feeding their foliage and the extra tea will soak down to the roots if you give each plant a two tablespoon shot. Do this every two weeks but stop at the end of May or early June when the scapes (the curved stem with bubils) start to appear at the base of the top leaf.
Follow-up during the fall and early winter
- After your garlic pokes its leaves through the ground late fall, make sure you remove every weed near any garlic plant. YOU MUST REGARD ANY WEED NEAR ANY GARLIC PLANT AS YOUR ENEMY. THEY WILL ROB YOU OF A PROFIT AND TAKE AWAY THE JOY THAT SHOULD BE YOURS AT THE TIME OF HARVEST. THEREFORE, AFTER PLANTING, YOUR NUMBER ONE GARDENING OR GROWING RESPONSIBILITY IS TO, CHOP EM, HOE EM, BURN EM, PULL EM, OR BURY EM. NEVER LET A WEED LIVE MORE THAN TWO WEEKS. Check your mulch to make sure that it has not blown off and replace it if necessary. If you use plastic mulch, go down each row and make sure the leaves of each plant are coming through the hole above the clove. Sometimes you must use your finger to guide it out of the hole. This is also important in the early spring when the garlic begins to grow in March or April. It will poke through all mulches with no problem unless you have used unchipped leaves or put on more than five or six inches of chopped leaves. With plastic mulch you must make sure the clove's leaves are coming through the hole in the plastic or it will die. All during the fall and winter as long as the ground temperature is above 42 degrees F. the garlic roots will grow.
- Even though you cannot see any growth from your clove in October or maybe early November, the roots of the clove are growing and after forty-two days of temperatures below 42 degrees, your clove will split and become a bulb. This is called Vernalization of a clove. Garlic that is planted in the spring, as some people do, must be first placed in the refrigerator to vernalize or you will end up with a one clove bulb.
Picking the scapes (the succulent curved or circular stem formed on hard neck garlic)
Scapes usually appear the first week of June and they support the small cluster of bubils. If left on the plant it will grow into many small roundish cloves that will fall off and make small bulbs the following year or maybe a small marble which can be planted in the fall. The scapes should be snapped off by the first set leaves from the top when they are 12" – 15" long. Don't wait until they straighten out or they will be tough to eat. If you want large bulbs, snap them off. If left on, they will reduce the bulb size 20 to 30%. These are very tasty, and succulent. Garlic scapes should not be wasted. They can be sautéed, oven roasted, stir fried or made into scape pesto. They will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator. They can be chopped and frozen. They are a delicacy for the Asian people. We make pesto from them, we also bake them like asparagus with olive oil brushed on and with salt and pepper. And we stir fry them. You can also pickle them or sell them.
- Garlic is usually harvested early in July in the Midwest. Upper Midwest and upper western states it might be at the end of July. Garlic needs a full nine months in the ground for maximum size but you MUST harvest when the garlic is ready no matter what. When three or four leaves turn yellow, dig a bulb or two. It they are full and the cloves are bulging, they are ready. If the bulb is mostly round and the cloves do not have slight valleys in them, they are not ready. Do not wait until all the leaves are yellow because each leaf represents a wrapper on the bulb. Most garlic bulbs will have nine leaves but some will have eleven. When five leaves are yellow, the bulb will have four wrappers remaining which it needs to store well. With only one or two wrappers it will dry out more quickly in storage. If you wait until the bulb leaves are all yellow or worse, a brown color, you will have the bulbs fall apart as you dig or pull them up. The loose cloves are good and can be eaten or planted in the fall but they will not store long and they will not be marketable. HARVESTING at the right time is crucial for a good crop
- You cannot set a date for harvesting because each year it can vary. Also, some varieties of garlic will harvest sooner or later than other garlic. You MUST stay on top of this! It is better to harvest a little early than too late. It is probably a good idea to dig a bulb each week when you see the leaves beginning to dry. In Ohio, the month of June is the time of bulb growth. Each leave that turns yellow is saying, “I have poured all my energy into the bulb and now it is time for me and my wrapper to dry up – our work is done." Dig too soon, the bulbs will be small. Dig too late you will have no wrappers and loose cloves.
- When you dig your garlic bulbs with a fork or shovel, dig three inches farther back than you think you need to dig. This will prevent the inadvertent spearing with the fork or worse yet, shearing in half a beautiful bulb of garlic with a shovel. You can eat it, not sell it, and it won't keep. Remember to dig back three inches farther than you think.
- Marking the garlic's name in a very careful way, is important when you crack the cloves, when you plant the cloves, when you harvest the garlic in the field, when you bring it into the barn to be tied up for drying, when you hang the garlic on the drying rack, when you trim the dried garlic, when you store the dried garlic, and when finally, you sell the garlic.
- IT IS VERY EASY TO GET CARELESS HERE IN THE RUSH OF HARVEST AND THEN GET YOUR GARLIC MIXED UP. I USE 16" WOODEN STICKS WHICH ARE MARKED WITH BLACK PERMANENT MARKER, WHICH DOESN'T WEATHER OFF. EVERY TUB HAS A MARKER STICK IN IT. THESE STICKS FOLLOW THE GARLIC UNTIL IT IS HUNG TO DRY. Then I mark them by black marker on bright orange duct tape.
Drying the garlic
- If the sun is hot, do not let the garlic bulbs bake in the sun. Some growers, myself included, let the pulled or dug garlic lay on the ground for a half a day or so by covering each bulb with the leaves of the next bulb. This seems to speed up the drying of the bulbs. But I don't think it is wise to let the bulbs cook in the sun uncovered. Some growers harvest late in the day and take the garlic right to the drying area. Don't ever throw your garlic! Handle your garlic gently and you will have fewer dried out bulbs and it will store better.
- Garlic dries best, in my opinion, if the leaves and roots are left on and tied in clusters of six to ten depending on size of bulb. Using baling twine, triple wrap and tightly tie the garlic plant bundles six to eight inches up from the bulbs and with the bulbs down, place the tied bundle over a wire, a rope, or board or whatever means you have to hang them. Handle carefully, don't drop them!
- After hanging, they must have plenty of air around them. Do not push the tied bunches too close together on the hanging rack because they will not dry well. Leave an inch or more between each garlic bunch or cluster as it hangs.
- With low humidity the bulbs will dry in a couple of weeks. Normal humidity three to four weeks, high humidity six to eight weeks.
- Drying with fans costs money so have doors open, windows open to help facilitate moving air. You must have air moving through and around the garlic at all times. If there is no breeze or air movement in your barn or drying-shed, you should provide air movement with fans, large of small. I find the typical window fans very helpful for small amounts of garlic of one type. But for moving large amounts of air through my barn I have several three and four foot diameter fans. During rain and at night, it is best to close the doors to keep the moisture out. If garlic is not dry it will mold in storage. You can sell and use garlic fresh out of the ground. We sell it locally by the single bulb and stem complete or in bundles of six. Fresh garlic is succulent and very mild because it is still full of juice, but as it dries the moisture is slowly siphoned off into the air through the drying of the roots, bulb and the leaves. The longer it dries the more concentrated the flavor and the more spicy or hotter it is.
- When dry, the leaves will be the color of straw or hay. This is the time to brush any dirt off the roots and to trim the bulb stem about an inch long. Trim the roots to 1/4" or less. Squeeze the freshly cut stem. No moisture should appear if dry and also the outer skin or wrapper will rub off easily if dry.
- REMEMBER THIS! AFTER ALL THE WORK YOU HAVE DONE YOU CAN EASILY LOSE YOUR WHOLE CROP THROUGH MOLD IF IT IS NOT THOROUGHLY DRY.
- Check them carefully; don't assume anything when it comes to drying. Soft necks take a week or two longer to dry than hard necks. Be mindful of this fact. Pop a few each week and check the inside cloves. They should not be moist. Feel them for dampness and smell them.
- Save one fifth of your crop for seed for next year. You will want to save the nicest ones for seed. New growers should probably save their biggest bulbs for planting. Experienced growers usually sell the biggest, plant the medium and eat the small ones. Some years you will eat a lot of garlic. Don't let people talk you into selling them your seed garlic. You must guard it. If someone stole it, you might not be able to buy more and then you would have no crop the following year. Some growers sell all they raise because they have a contract with another grower who will provide seed for them. Garlic cannot be stored like grains for years. Ever year garlic must be planted or there will be no crop the following year. That is a scary thought isn't it?
- This is where you size the bulbs to small, medium, and large. I use a small plastic water cup with a two inch opening. If the bulb won't go into the cup opening, they are large, 2-1/8" plus. If they go but stop on the top half of the cup, they are medium, 1-1/2" to 1-7/8". If they go to the bottom of the cup, they are small 1-1/2" or less. Jumbo are usually 2-1/2" plus. Rarely does garlic get larger than 3" in diameter.
- Note: This is for those who would like to make profit growing garlic. As a general rule I have found that it takes five jumbo bulbs to make a pound of garlic. It takes 6 - 7 large bulbs, 8 - 10 medium bulbs and 11-15 small bulbs to make a pound of garlic.
- Do the math. If I am growing 20,000 bulbs, or about ½ an acre and most of my bulbs are 2 ounces or medium, I will have a harvest that weighs 40,000 ounces or 2500 lbs. If my bulbs average 3 oz. I have 60,000 oz. or 3750 lbs, or 1250 lbs. let say at a price of $10.00 per pound which comes to $12,500. This is the profit difference between medium and jumbo sized bulbs on a half an acre.
- Pretty exciting huh? Extrapolating this, I conclude that I can make a lot of money growing garlic. For example an acre of medium cloves can fetch me $ 50,000, but an acre of Jumbos can fetch me 75,000 dollars. Two acres will make me…..three, four five will BANG, BONG, BINGO I'm in clover yikessssss, I can hardly wait until this fall. Then you fall off the kitchen chair where you fell asleep and you begin reading the rest of the story.
The Rest of the Story
Grow garlic because you like to eat it and give some to family and friends. Grow it because you love it. You enjoy seeing it pop though the ground in early spring, just like the crocuses do. Grow it because you love its durability. It is a survivor, it can grow almost anywhere there is soil, sunlight and water. Grow it because a field of garlic can set your heart rate up because you know how great and good each bulb of garlic is. Grow it because you love the different kinds, the flavors, the heat or spiciness, the colors of some of it drives you crazy. Those pure white music, those stripped red Chesnoch, the mother of pearl that is a pearl color, and those that have so much purple you want to eat the whole bulb, wrappers and all. Grow garlic for its medicinal and nutrition benefits. Don't grow it solely to make money. You will surely be disappointed. It's like raising kids, it takes a lot of loving care and work…..but it's worth it. Its rewards are many and money is one of them but not the best reason for growing it.
Here are some things that can keep you from realizing a profit
- Most have happened to me: You can have a dry spring and summer. You can have a wet spring, summer and fall. A Texas grower had every one of his garlic bulbs leaves eaten by locusts. If this wasn't bad enough, they dug down and ate every bulb also. He not only lost his crop and a chance to make a profit, he now had to spend a lot of money buying new seed if he wanted a crop next year. You can use too much mulch, especially chopped leaves.
- You hire help that costs more than you earn. Your help plants the garlic incorrectly. Deer kick out the cloves and stomp some so deep in the soil that they don't come up. Deer will hold pep rallies on the new soft soil and dance up and down in delirium and prance all over your raised beds like they were stomping out a fire. If you plant late like I did because we had four weeks of steady rain days that would not let us plant until late November, then cold weather came and frost pushed half of the cloves out of the ground because winter came early and we couldn't mulch because the fields were so muddy.
- In low parts of the field, the water rotted the cloves because they couldn't drain. Sometimes the cold winter winds blow the plastic mulch off and it's a chore to realign the holes. After much hard work by shoveling mud along all the edges, you feel smug until you find out a week later that Bambi and her friends have torn the plastic mulch and ripped it off the raised beds because their feet got stuck in it but now the weather has turned cold and frozen the ground and this time you can't plop shovel after shovel of mud. I considered buying a thousand bricks to hold the plastic until I found that they cost .40 each. You want to kill every last deer you see, but you don't because you can't see them. They frolic around your garlic fields only after dark and when there is no full moon.
- Then I began to wonder why the garlic in the back field didn't come up. I found out later that when I placed them in warm water to kill any thing that was on them like fungi, that water temperature was critical. I must have let it get a few degrees above 118 degrees and killed all the endosperm in my cloves. Live and learn I said to myself. Will I ever live long enough to learn how to grow healthy, big garlic bulbs?
- I bought more equipment each year and went deeper in debt. Then I had to buy another five hundred pounds of seed. When I finally had a huge crop I had no market for it. I sold some for $ 4.00 a pound and gave it to friends who did not offer me any money for it. I gave it to churches and hunger centers that didn't even send a thank you note.
- Someone said that I should use straw for mulch because I could blow it on with a machine. I did. Three hundred bales at $3.00 a bale, equals $900. plus a hundred for the blower and wages for a couple kids with strong backs. It was beautiful….for a while. Then the Ohio winter winds began to blow. They blew and blew until most all the straw was off of my raised mounds and laying in the ditches. Then it rained and the sodden straw was hard to put back on the raised mounds. This was early winter. Old man winter had just begun. By the time the snow came to provide some cover, there was very little straw left to keep the weeds out in the spring. I began to hate straw as a mulch Well spring did arrive and so did the weeds. The little bit of straw remaining sheltered the weeds until they could get there aggressive side roots and their twelve inch tap roots in place and then they took off and in a few weeks they were twice as high as the garlic and ten times more numerous. It rained that spring, 2010 for three weeks straight. Those weeds sucked up all the good nutrients that I had worked into that soil and they grew and grew. My wife and I set aside three hours each day to pull weeds. Our hands got so tired we finally tried the weed whip but we damaged a lot of garlic and it wouldn't cut the thick-stemmed weeds so I had to think of something else. Pulling weeds wasn't working. Oh how I hated that straw! We were pulling 50,000 thousand weeds per day, but a million more came up. I thought I could cultivate when it dried up but the straw would clump up in the cultivators and pull the garlic out. Then I remembered my propane flame burner with 300,000 btu's. I would fix those weeds; I would fry them right in place. As I approached the field with a smirk on my face, I sat the dolly down. I had this baby on wheels to make the destruction of these weeds that much easier. Just as I was about to light my mighty weed burner, a thought came to my mind: Dry straw burns like paper. I looked over my fields of garlic and realized that I did not want to have a field of roasted garlic. Oh how I hated straw. It was too thin on the mound to prevent weeds but thick enough to shelter them from sight and now it would not let me cultivate; now it's keeping me from using my flamer. Oh how I hated that straw. We resigned ourselves to getting very little garlic, which is what happened. The weeds were so strongly impacting the soil that I almost destroyed the clutch on my little International Cub because the under cutter could not cut the soil cleanly under the garlic. We ended up breaking the hardened clods with hammers just to retrieve small bulbs of garlic. What a disaster. No money would be coming in and I had to spend a huge amount to get new seed for next fall. Note: I could relate many more things that operate to prevent one from making a profit. I have since then used only plastic mulch on my garlic and also with much of my large vegetable garden.
Garlic right out of the ground until it is dried, is very succulent, full of juice and mild in flavor. Once garlic starts to dry for several weeks, it loses a lot (10 to 15%) of its moisture and tends to get spicier or hotter. The drier the more heat because the flavor is more concentrated. Fresh garlic is usually sold with the leaves intact. It can be sold by the single bulb, by the bunch, or by the pound.
- Braids can be made most easily using soft neck garlic because it has no stem which hardens, but some folks with strong hands still braid hard neck garlic. It is best to let the garlic bulbs (usually you use large sized bulb) with leaves to dry for five or six days before braiding. This minimizes shrinking of the leaves which makes the braids become loose and unattractive.
- After drying for five or six days, take a wet cloth to dampen the leaves to make the braiding easier. Braids can be small eight to ten bulbs or large fifteen to twenty bulbs.
- Braided garlic is beautiful especially when several dry leaves or colorful flowers are inserted on the top of the braid. If you can braid hair, you can braid garlic. Just keep everything tight when you do it. People like the braids for decoration. Use the bulbs from the top down first because the bottom bulb is the anchor. Soft neck has more inner wrappers than hard neck garlic and will store longer even to 10 months or longer.