How to Grow Garlic the Natural Way
Last Green Valley Garlic Growers started with purchased USDA certified organic seed stock and certified naturally grown seed stock from the states of Oregon and Washington.
Here in New England, planting in the fall will give you the best result. We plant our garlic in Connecticut in October. Or before the ground freezes, or after the first frost of the season.
Soil Prep: Garlic is a root crop. Adding lots of organic matter (manure/compost) when you prepare your soil results in the best tasting and large garlic bulbs. The top 12-18 inches of soil should be soft and fluffy.
Prepare your Bulbs: When your soil is ready to be planted, carefully separate each garlic bulb into individual cloves. You can keep the wrapper on the cloves. One clove will grow a new bulb of garlic. Bruising the cloves can result in entry points for rot. Selecting the largest cloves will result in large bulbs.
Be mindful of each variety you are planting, once they are planted, it can be difficult to determine which is which once harvested.
Soak the cloves overnight in a water solution containing a heaping tablespoon of baking soda and liquid seaweed per gallon. This will loosen the wrappers while protecting the cloves from fungus. The liquid seaweed gives the cloves an “energy” boost for growing.
Right before getting the cloves in the ground, dip the cloves in either rubbing alcohol or 100 proof vodka for four minutes or so and then immediately plant them. Alcohol kills pathogens and pests that creep into the bulbs. Drunken cloves will give you a better harvest.
Please note that alcohols and baking soda are on the accepted list for the National Organic Program.
Plant garlic cloves: With the garlic clove pointing upwards (pointed side up) plant 2-3 inches deep, spacing each clove 6-8 inches apart. In areas with colder winters you should plant the garlic at least 4-6 inches. You can make individual holes using a blunt handle (such as the end of a rake or shovel or a bulb planter. You can also dig a trench 4-6 inches deep; lay in the garlic cloves and cover. Hand planting assures the right clove direction of and gives you nice large bulbs.
Mulching the beds: Mulch the garlic bed with straw or compost. Make sure that the straw is nice and fluffy, letting some air through. You do not want the bed too wet or your crop could rot.
Tending Growing Garlic: In late winter or early spring you will see your garlic sprouts emerging. Keep the area well weeded. Hardneck garlic is ideally suited for dry climates; most garlic will do fine on 12-14 inches of rain during the growing season. Some growers recommend fertilizing garlic in the early spring to give it a boost just as the foliage gets a good start but before the plant begins to form a bulb. With good fertile ground, foliar spraying is a good idea. Spray with a table spoon of liquid seaweed and baking soda in a gallon of water, two or three times during the springtime. Discontinue feeding once the bulbs start to form. Feeding will result in lusher greens taking energy away from bulb growth. Do not feed within a month of harvest.
Garlic scapes: Hardneck garlic forms a stalk called a scape in spring or early summer. About a couple months before harvest. Scapes are composed of small bulblets which can grow more garlic. Scapes can be harvested to eat. Cut the scapes when they reach 4-5 inches high.
Harvesting Garlic: Ideally the garlic should start drying out in early summer. Knowing when to harvest the garlic is to watch the leaves and they’ll tell you when to harvest. Garlic leaves signal maturity by beginning to turn brown and dying. The bottom leaves will start to dry out and turn brown. Garlic is ready to harvest when only the top 4-5 green leaves are left. Dig or gently pull your garlic. Do not remove the stems yet.
If the soil is soft, garlic can be pulled by hand. Warning: when the soil is harder, digging is required or the garlic may break off in the soil. Carefully using a garden fork, slip down under them and pry them up. Lay them gently aside trying not to bruise and use a sun cover as needed.
Curing the Bulbs: Hardneck garlic have stems are hard. They cannot be braided. Cure the garlic bulbs by storing in a cool dry area with good air movement. When the roots and necks are completely dried and it does not emit a typical garlic odor when cut, that is the time to trim it. It can take anywhere from two to six weeks to get to that point, longer for extra large bulbs. Some people dry the garlic on racks, we hang the garlic. Bulbs can be eaten ‘immediately’ but will have a more mellow flavor and will store longer after curing. Once the stems are dry you can clip off the bulb and store in a dry airy place. You can enjoy using both the raw and the cured bulbs in cooking.
Garlic Storing: Storage length depends on your storage conditions. For the longest storage time, place garlic in a cool (50-65ºF) dry area such as an unheated room. Do not store garlic in plastic or air tight containers or garlic will mold, rot or try to grow. Garlic will sprout if exposed to prolonged temperatures below 45ºF.
Garlic cloves can be chopped and frozen for later use.