Allium sativum, (more commonly known as Garlic) is a member of the onion family and can be grown very easily at home in your open garden, in a cold green house, in a pot or even a window box.
Garlic will grow all year round in mild climates although in colder climates, like in the UK, planting Garlic is best around autumn so the plants will grow slowly throughout the winter frost and start to flower around spring. Garlic is a Perennial with long green flat leaves and white flowers.
Garlic is available in two varieties, hardneck (also known as ‘top-setting’) and softneck.
Hardneck Garlic is well suited to growing in cold climates and the bulb produces one layer of cloves which is much larger than those of softneck. The cloves of hardneck garlic also have a stronger flavour and are easier to peel than softneck. However, they do not keep as long in storage.
Softneck cloves last much longer in storage and are more readily available.
Planting your Garlic
Garlic seeds can be rare so it is more common to grow garlic from the bulb segments (cloves) which you can obtain from a specialist garden center or even from your local supermarket.
Before planting your garlic cloves you should prepare the soil by working in compost and make sure the area of your garden has good drainage as cold wet cloves will rot. To improve drainage you should consider constructing a raised bed to grow the garlic in. Since garlic has shallow roots you will only need a 5 inch high bed.
You should split the bulbs just before you intend to plant and discard any damaged or small cloves, and try to use the biggest clove as this will produce a bigger bulb.
When planting the cloves it is better to use a planting drill because pushing the cloves into the ground may inhibit root development. In cold climates the cloves should be planted to a depth of 4 inches whilst milder climates will be fine with a depth of 2 inches.
Spacing is important to properly grow garlic; you should plant your cloves in a row setting them 6-8 inches apart for softneck and 4-6 inches apart for hardneck. If you plan on setting additional rows leave 12 inches between rows. After planting, water your crop thoroughly and mulch with leaves if available.
Care for your Garlic
Depending on the weather, after planting your crop in autumn you may not need to water again until Spring. From spring onwards you should water your crop regularly but don’t over water or allow your crop to become soggy or else your bulbs will rot.
If you applied mulch when planting your crop there should be few weeds. Be sure to check your mulch is not retaining moisture, if so reduce the mulch and cultivate the soil as needed to keep your crop free of weeds.
Harvesting your Garlic
You can expect to harvest your crop in late spring/early summer. A sign that your crop is ready for harvesting is when the leaves begin to turn yellow and bend over. When you see that a quarter of the leaves have dried up you should pick a couple of bulbs to check them.
Ripe bulbs should have a firm skin and the inner cloves should be fully separated. Don’t delay if your crop is ready – you should harvest right away. Use a garden fork to gently loosen the bulbs out of the soil.
After picking all your bulbs you need to cure your crop – this can be done in a greenhouse, shed or even a garage, and curing normally takes one to four weeks. Fully cured garlic plants will have a completely dry outer skin.
Once your garlic is fully cured you should clip and gentle brush off any excess soil. When clipping leaves and you find any moisture then your bulbs have not fully cured.
You can store fully dried bulbs in baskets, string bags or sacks in a frost-free dark shed or garage.