Grown underground, garlic is an easy, low-maintenance garden crop. Fall planting before the ground freezes provides a summer of fresh garlic. Storing it in a cool dry location keeps the bulbs garden-fresh for up to seven months.
Softneck and hardneck are the two available garlic types. Softneck varieties develop more cloves than hardneck with smaller cloves forming in the center and larger ones on the outside of the bulb. Softneck garlic also stores longer than hardneck once harvested. The hardneck cloves grow around a central stalk, which sprouts a flower stem at the top of the bulb. Removing this stem with sharp garden pruners forces more energy back into the developing garlic bulb.
Plant garlic in late fall six weeks before the ground freezes allows for strong root development. Remove the cloves from the bulb. Use the largest for planting. The larger the clove, the more likely it is to produce a large garlic head. Place the cloves in well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny location with the pointed side up about 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Once all the cloves are planted, smooth the soil over the holes and water the ground. Wait a couple of weeks for the soil to start cooling, and then cover the soil with a layer of mulch or ground-up leaves.
Care While Growing
Garlic requires ample fertilization. Apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer when planting at a rate of 1 to 2 lbs. for every 100 square feet of garden area. Within four weeks of planting, place a light layer of additional fertilizer in bands around the bed for supplemental nourishment while the roots develop. The garlic begins growing in early spring as the days begin warming. Apply water when the soil feels dry. Stopping irrigation in late June or early July allows the heads to finish forming and the leaves to die down before harvesting. Remove weeds by hand when they appear in the garden; garlic has a shallow root system and deep cultivation may damage roots close to the surface.
Harvest garlic early to midsummer when 1/3 of the upper leaves appear brown, faded or begin to dry. Remove garlic from the bed with a garden fork and place the garlic on a wire screen in a well-ventilated area for drying. Once the foliage dries, clip it off 1 inch above the bulb. Cut off any remaining roots and remove any soil still on the bulb. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark, dry area and save the largest heads for the next planting.
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