Fresh garlic is a cook’s dream- grated into pasta, chopped for a sauté with vegetables and chicken, or blended into fresh salsa. Most people are used to grabbing bulbs from the grocery store and don’t even realize how easy it is to grow their own. And garlic isn’t just good in your kitchen- the “stinking rose” makes an excellent insect repellent in the garden, and has been used in home remedies for hundreds of years.
Fall planting is recommended for garlic- especially if growers want bigger, more flavorful bulbs. For fall planting, break the bulbs apart a few days before planting, and plant about one month before the ground freezes. The cloves should be planted flat side (root end) down, with the tips about 2 inches beneath the soil, and cloves set 6 to 8 inches apart. Your newly planted cloves should then be topped with mulch (about 6 inches)- which can be straw or even dried grass clippings. During winter your garlic will stop growing, then start again in spring. Because garlic is not good at competing for water with weeds, leave your mulch in place and make sure you water, about an inch per week to help spring growth. Garlic loves nitrogen, so make sure you are fertilizing accordingly. Once the leaves begin to yellow, stop watering the garlic- this allows your bulbs to get firm. In mid-June, your garlic will flower- these tops are savory, and are known as scapes, and must be removed to encourage bulb growth. Before tossing them, though, consider using them as they do have a very mild garlic flavor and do well when added to dips and pestos. To harvest, watch for the tops to yellow, and fall over- but harvest before the tops are completely dry (this usually happens in late June to early July). Carefully dig up each bulb and avoid attempting to pull the bulbs out by the stalk- as this can cause the stem to break from the bulb and encourage rot. Once your bulbs are harvested, take them to a dark place, out of the sun; tie 6 to 10 of our plants in bundles and hang them up in a dry, shaded, slightly drafty area– this allows your garlic to cure, and curing should be complete after six weeks.
Once curing is complete, you can cut the roots off of your plants, trimming about 1 ½ inches above the bulb and being careful not to remove the outer skin. Old net onion bags are perfect for storing garlic, and a great way to recycle. If you’d like to get a little more decorative with your garlic, instead of cutting off the stems you can braid them together to make a garlic braid, then hang in a kitchen or storage room. As your bulbs continue to dry, the flavor will increase- making them perfect for use in soups, stews, pastas, roasts- whatever your inner culinary master desires!
Gurney’s offers several varieties of garlic- from our Gurney’s Choice California White Garlic, a proven producer, to our Walla Walla Early Garlic, perfect for braiding. Check out Gurney’s for all of your garlic gardening needs!