Garlic – 6 steps to the most easy useful plant in your veggie patch

6 steps for growing garlic in the Pacific Northwest garlic six steps 2

I am convinced that garlic is the easiest plant to grow. But its also one of the most useful as its actually used and preserves so well.   You have a clear “seed” in the clove and its not some small thing you cant see.  You plant it and basically forget it until spring.  Fertilize and harvest.  And then you end up with seed for the next year also!  Its the perfect plant.  So here are the 6 steps to growing garlic that everyone needs to know so that you can plant garlic in your garden this year.

  1. Pick out your garlic:  This may be the hardest part of the whole process of growing garlic.  Softneck vs hardneck?  Varieties within Hard or soft neck? Where to plant?

    1. Hardnecks are generally said to be better for northern climates.  Their cloves are also larger and easier to peel.  But they dont store as long as softnecks.  I personally like the taste of hardnecks more also… but regardless, there is nothing like the taste of homegrown garlic.  Once you try it you will never go back to buying the softneck generic garlic in the stores!
    2. What varieties are good for wetter soils – per Filaree farms in Eastern Washington Kilarney Red, Porcelain and purple stripe varieties, Chesnok Red, Nootka rose.  My personal favorites are Music, Chesnok and the Inchelium red.
    3. Because you essentially grow your next years seed garlic, try and get garlic that will work well for your are and that you think you will really enjoy.  If you dont enjoy it, dont plant it again just because you have the seed garlic.
  1.  Plant:
    1. Timing. Plant about 3 weeks before the first freeze.  Typically in October in the Pacific Northwest.
    2. Soil – Garlic needs well drained soil… so raised beds are perfect.  Containers will work if they are deep enough for the roots. Separate bulb and plant the largest 2-3 inches deep and 6-7 inches apart.  If you want to harvest “green garlic”, which is the tender delicious garlic just as its garlicstarting to form a bulb, in the late spring/early summer you can plant closer (maybe every 4 inches)  and then harvest every other one for green garlic.  For ideas of how to use green garlic check out this article at Gourmet Sleuth.    I am going to try this for the 2015-6 season and will report back!
  2.  Supply nutrients:
    1. Water when its been dry for 7-10 days and fertilize.   Here is the PNW you can sometimes get away with little to no watering if its a rainy spring to early summer.  Stop watering a few weeks before harvesting.
    2. Fertilize two or three times depending on your soil conditions and compost used.  Always fertilize once when you plant the garlic… you want to supply plenty of nitrogen at planting so either make certain your soil is high in nitrogen by using chicken compost, blood meal, or use an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen.  Then in spring (around early March) repeat because the garlic and winter rains in the PNW will have depleted the soil of the high levels of nitrogen.  Then again in mid-May you may want to fertilize again but with something higher in potassium  just before the bulbs start to increase in size.  The bulbs  will start to swell in response to the longer days of summer and potassium will help produce larger bulbs, whereas the nitrogen supplied earlier will help the garlic grown large stalks/leaves.
  3. Harvest:  Harvest after the soil is dry and some of the bottom leaves appear pale, brown, and withered.  This is usually some time in July, but can be June or August depending on the weather.  Another sign is that hardnecks will produce a scape which should be cut and eaten as a delicacy of its own.  I typically cu the scapes and can then harvest about 3 weeks later.   You can test if its ready by pulling one of the plants out.  Try to leverage it out of the ground from below instead of pulling it from the leaves at the top in case the bulb isn’t ready and you have to put it back in.  If the stalks look big and strong you will likely have a large bulb.  If you have a mix of strong and wimpy stalks it probably isn’t worth leaving the wimpy ones in longer.  They simply didn’t get the nutrients, space or sunlight they needed.  If you leave them in too long the cloves will start to split up the bulb which is not helpful for the longevity of the bulb, so eat those ones first.
  4. Cure – Once you harvest the garlic you want to cure it so it will last longer.  Curing means you place the harvested garlic in an airy but shaded place to let it dry for about 2 weeks. Don’t cut the stalks, wash, or cut off the roots at this point.  Let them dry with the garlic.  After about 2 weeks you can braid the softnecks if you like. Trim the roots and cut the stalk off about one inch above the bulb.
  5. Preserve and store:  There are many ways to preserve garlic.  Do remember that if you cured your garlic properly they should last for a few months by themselves if they are kept in a dry cool place.
    1. You can freeze unpeeled whole garlic bulbs or peeled cloves.  Some, like Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden, peel them and lightly coat them in olive oil.  But do remember that garlic is a low acid food and therefore storing garlic for the long term in a large amount of oil can foster clostridium botulinum – a bacteria that is commonly found in our soils but becomes deadly in low oxygen environments and doesn’t give tell-tale signs its there.
    2. You can make it into a pesto paste and freeze.
    3. You can peel and chop the garlic and make a small “log” to freeze so you can break off a portion from the log when you want to cook with it.  This is the method I use because there is only one garlic lover in my household so I use small amounts and I like it pre-cut for easy cooking.
    4. Dry garlic in a dehydrator
    5. Make garlic salt

garlic in bagGrowing garlic is my number one priority every year.  It really does taste so much better than anything in the stores.  What varieties do you grow and where???  Share with us in the comments below!

Other resources:

OSU article on spring garlic maintenance

Growing Gourmet Garlic

Braiding softneck garlic

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