Recently, while discussing growing garlic with a friend, I was asked why would someone bother growing garlic if you can just buy it at the store. Oh, the reasons! Flavor, variety, ease of growing, health benefits, an abundant harvest. Let me count the reasons to grow garlic at home!
The question still stands, why grow your own garlic? I have to say that after the first year, I was hooked. With a vast amount of diversity out there, a home gardener has the ability to grow many different types and flavors of garlic. Whether you prefer mild flavors or something with a little kick, there is a kind to fit every palette. Once you begin growing and keeping your own garlic, you can also start to be more self-reliant.
Soft neck types are not usually suitable for Maine growing so I will focus on hard neck varieties. Porcelain-type garlic typically has 4-6 cloves per bulb, excellent storage ability and the large cloves are easy to use in the kitchen. Some varieties include ‘Music’ with it’s super large, luscious bulbs, ‘Romanian Red’ has great storage life and ‘Georgian Fire’ is a more pungent flavored variety for those heat lovers out there.
The Rocambole group features a shorter shelf life, looser skins and 6-12 big cloves per bulb. ‘Russian Red’ was brought here by Russian immigrants in the early 1900’s. ‘German Red’ with it’s rosy skin, is said by Fedco to be of medieval origins. This is only scratching the surface of the garlic world. Just a little list to whet your appetite!
Each separate clove can produce a whole new garlic bulb. So, if you plant 50 cloves, you may end up with 50 large bulbs when you harvest. Garlic purchased at the supermarket may be from as far away as China. If you grow your own, you know how it was grown.
There is a wealth of information out there on how to grow great garlic. Books, magazine and online articles. Growing Great Garlic, a book for those passionate about garlic growing is full of history and in-depth garlic info. The Fedco bulb catalog comes with some invaluable information every year. Also check out the link on their site, Blue-Ribbon Garlic Growing Tips.
For some comprehensive information for Maine growing, go to the University of Maine Extension article Growing Hardneck Garlic In Your Maine Garden. If you live in another state, check with your local Extension office. One thing is for sure, growing great garlic is not complicated! I’m sure that if you want to get all scientific about it, you can. But, today I will lay out 4 easy steps to get you growing some fabulous garlic!
1. Obtain Seed Garlic
Where does one get garlic to plant? Please don’t look to your local grocery store. These bulbs may look nice but they are likely not hardy for our area and may have been treated not to sprout. I’ve actually planted some from a local farm and had excellent results.
Purchase seed garlic from a local garden center, a catalog or online company. Just do a search for seed garlic and you will find plenty. I also have a garlic guy. What? You don’t have a garlic guy? A man that lives in the next town is a grower, planting out around 20,000 per year! Wow, you should see his stash!
Once you grow your own garlic, it is easy to save some of the larger bulbs for next years planting. Then you can be your own garlic guy!
2. Break Apart The Bulbs
This is your for first real step in planting. Break apart your bulbs as you would for cooking. It’s as easy as that. After you have done this to all of the bulbs, you are ready for planting.
3. Prepare The Soil
Growing great garlic does require a fertile garden bed rich with compost or manure. I usually sprinkle the the site with some organic fertilizer. The Fedco seed catalog says ‘more food and more space generally gives larger bulbs’. The general principle of ‘you get what you put into it’ definitely applies here.
In mid to late October or even early November, plant each individual clove 5-6″ deep and 4-8″ apart. In Maine, 4 weeks before the ground freezes is ideal. Think about planting at the same time you would plant fall bulbs. Not every fall is the same either. Timing will be different for more southern New England.
At this point it is recommended to mulch the site with 4-6″ of hay. Some use straw which can mat considerably. I’ve used leaves with great success. We just place a piece of chicken wire over the garden to keep the leaves from blowing away.
That’s just about all there is to it. Plain and simple. With adequate moisture, by next August, you will see those garlic leaves turning yellow. This is a sure sign that it’s time to get out that garden fork and see what treasure awaits below the surface of the ground!
Next summer at harvest time, we will discuss proper harvest and storage. My article Garlic Scapes swoons over using garlic scapes in the kitchen. For now, go find some seed garlic and get planting! I think you will love the anticipation it brings! Remember to follow me on Instagram for daily pictures. I’m also on Facebook and Pinterest! Thanks for your interest in garlic and the Everlongardener site. I really appreciate you stopping by.