Hello again everyone. From a previous post on the planting of garlic by bulbils, some have mentioned they'd like a quick planting guide written up. This is in no way assuming that my technique is the only way to success, but having said that, this technique has been used by me for over 25 years without much deviation and my garlic is pretty darn good. This description is for hard-neck garlic only, the kind with a hard round stem in the centre and the kind that needs a freezing winter to set it's dormancy schedule.
First step is always soil prep. Choose a location in your garden where no garlic or onions had been grown there for two years. Crop rotation is very important. I keep a hand written map system in my garden journal detailing where certain crops were located in previous years, garlic always being the first to be planted in late fall, so it sets the stage for everything else. You may think keeping a map record in a journal is anal retentive, and it is...but it is successful and success is what we strive for.
Garlic is planted in late fall, so fall soil prep is what I am talking about here. After your spot is chosen, add copious amounts of manure, compost and rot-able mulch and work into the ground. Garlic are heavy feeders, they need lots of nutrients to do well. Give them everything you have available. I work in a lot of compost from the year into the area I'm going to plant garlic, add manure and even a bit of 16-16-16 fertilizer. I prefer to use a tiller to work the soil, getting fairly deep to make planting easiest.
Prepping the garlic itself is an important step. You are going to take last years crop if you have it, or the bulbs you just bought from a seed house and do your selection. If buying from a seed house, choose a reputable one. With the garlics for planting in front of you, have two separate baskets or containers to hold the separated cloves. One basket for the "planters" that will be planted, and one for ones that don't make the cut that you will eat shortly, I call them the "eaters".
Very gently, break the bulb apart using your fingernail to cut into the papery wrapper along a seam, while holding the hard-neck in the center. Be very, very careful to not damage the pointy tip of the individual garlic cloves, as this is the apical tip of the actual plant. Damaging this in the break-open stage will set you up for failure. I cannot stress this enough. If it looks like you bruised a tip, toss it into the eater basket and do not plant. Throw it in spaghetti sauce instead.
Keep carefully separating the individual cloves from the bulbs. Smaller ones go into the eater pile. Planters are the nicest ones. Any with a wrapper that broke apart or is ripped...into the eater pile. Any with an odd shape, eater. Any with a bruise, or a cut from your fingernails etc, eaters. Careful to look for some that are double cloves stuck together, but look like one. These are tricky to spot, and out of a 128 garlic I plant every year...at least two get by me every year. They will not produce a good garlic since they are two separate plants and grow together, competing with each other. Try very hard to avoid doubles!
Once you have the best of the best as planters separated and in the number you want, you are good to go.
Count how many individual cloves were in each bulb as an average. Remember this number and write down, it is important come harvesting time.
This is an area where mistakes are made. Planting timing is very tricky with garlic, as is harvesting. It's all about the very narrow window of timing and getting it right. Garlic needs to be planted in late fall, with enough time (a couple to three weeks) of not terribly cold weather and frozen ground. The garlic cannot be planted too early as they will sprout green in the fall before winter (BAD!) and not too late that a few small roots cannot form to anchor garlic in place in the ground before the ground becomes too cold for any growth.
Here in Southern Ontario (think southern Michigan etc for the US), I plant first week of November preferably but have pushed to middle of November with success. Anything later is bad, planting for me in October is still too early as some leaves are still on trees and some warm days are still around. Too early and the garlic will sprout green.
I give my rows lots of room, as garlic are heavy feeders. Rows are 2.5 feet apart, garlic is planted 4" apart within the rows. I used to plant with a tent-peg in years past, using it to make a nice hole and dropping garlic clove in, but have since gone with the best tool for this job...a Lee Valley dibber. However you use, make a hole so that the clove sits in it root side down, pointy tip part up, such that the tip is about two inches below ground. Cover and pat down, mark rows and you are done for the year.
Very early spring, garlic is the first to come up. Well before trees are budding. My garlic pops up mid-March. It is nice to see the fruits of your labour last fall come to fruition while everything else is still brown and the garden is a long ways to being tilled for anything else.
By the time other stuff is planted in the garden, (for us that is Mid-May), garlic should be 10" tall! You will not need the row markers anymore. I put a bit of side dressing of 16-16-16, as noted before...garlic are nutrient hogs!!
Since garlic is a bulb, it stores much water so it is not important to water often...so don't. If you have a dry spell and everything else is suffering, water garlic too, a good soaking is good but not very often. Let everything else dictate watering. Garlic have prolific and deep roots and that bulb that keeps it resilient.
Not much to do in summer but keep garlic clean of weeds. Garlic hate competing, so be meticulous.
Scapes. What the heck are scapes? These are the centre stem of the hard-neck stem that you carefully held the remnants of while breaking open the bulb last fall. Ours come out for us around first of June and are a round stem (the leaves are flattened, but the scape is round so you can immediately see a difference). The scape grows very quickly, one day there is none, next day it's already 10" tall and growing. The scape after about 10" will start to curl and form what looks like a flower. This is where the bulbils are beginning to grow if you read my posting about bulbils. At this point, we cut the entire scape off the plant with a clipper to give more energy to the bulb, since we usually don't need bulbils as many do not either.
Scapes can be eaten fresh, frozen or pickled. They have a mild garlic taste. Many years, we just toss many in the composter. As soon as you cut them, they will be running with liquid...telling you just how much nutrient is flowing inside that sucker.
If you thought planting timing was nerve wracking, harvesting timing is worse. Our harvest time is mid-July to last week in July.
Here is the trick. Garlic put out a tall leaf for every clove growing inside the garlic. 8 cloves, 8 leaves. When you are planting in the fall, count how many cloves in a bulb on average. This is you guide for harvesting, as the rule is when half the leaves are dead from the ground up...the garlic is ready to harvest.
My garlic on average are 8 cloves, so in summer you will see the bottom leaf closest to the ground dead, the next one up, the next one again and finally the forth one up is dying....its time to harvest. Yours may be different, it all has to do with the variety but the 50% rule is valid.
Harvesting also is tricky around rain. Do not water at all if you are going to be harvesting in a week, and if it rains heavily or is predicted too, pick garlic a few days early. Picking a plump, wet, swelled up garlic after a rain is a disaster to curing it for storage, so keep an eye out for rain.
So, the bottom 3-4 leaves are dead, ground is dry...it is time. Fork the garlic out, they are tenacious and hard to get out due to the roots, make sure you don't damage by pulling on stems or bruising the bulb with the fork. Take a wide stance and dig the whole thing out with damaging. They are not onions, these suckers hold on for dear life!!!
Once out, don't cut roots off, don't cut the green tops. Shake dirt off and stack to be transported to where you will cure them. Treat them like eggs at this stage, they are very delicate and prone to bruising.
Find a place with good air flow, no direct sun and lay out garlic in a single layer to dry and cure. I use our north-facing porch and a tarp as the bottom. 2 weeks out in the air and the roots will be dry and the greens will be dead-ish. Leaving greens on for the curing time draws excess moisture from the bulb which is necessary. Clip greens off about 2-3 inches from bulb and discard. I like removing roots by grabbing them and twisting and pulling. It's hard on the hands but works...don't be a sissy!
With a veggie brush, brush off dry dirt to make them look pretty, making sure you are very careful with the wrappers. We store them now in a wood shelf, single layer until fall planting. If we need to eat some, we eat the obvious "ugly" ones that are far too ugly to be planted due to small size of crappy wrapper that are broken.
That's about it folks! The cycle begins every fall, leaving you all winter and spring to eat as much garlic as you can!!!