September through October is the very best time of year to plant garlic!
When September is nearly spent with the warm days are mostly behind us, weather crops are undoubtedly starting to show some signs that their end is near. For those of us lucky enough to be gardening in the Pacific Northwest this means there will soon be plenty of space available for some overwintering crops!
Why grow your own garlic? It’s a very easy crop. It grows from fall through late June when your garden is mostly empty anyway, and the varieties that you’ll find here at the nursery make the ones at the store seem bland by comparison.
Garlic is categorized in two ways. Each variety is assigned to a group which shares characteristics such as length of storage, number of cloves per head, and some flavor components. Garlic groups themselves belong to one of two categories: hardneck or softneck..
There are two basic classes of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Softneck varieties store very well, are braidable and easy to grow. The hardnecks have larger, richer cloves and are easier to peel.
The Silverskin Group is the longest storing of any garlic. Its members have a spicy, sulfurous flavor with a distinctive aftertaste, 12–24 cloves per head, and are harvested in mid to late July. 60–75 cloves per pound.
The Artichoke Group is the most commonly planted around the world. Garlic at the grocery store typically belongs to this group. Members are selected for high yield and mild flavor, although the amount of heat increases with storage. This group is named for the way successive rings of cloves overlap each other like petals on an artichoke. 8-20 cloves per head, 60-75 cloves per pound, harvest in mid-late June.
The Rocambole Group contains the world’s best tasting garlics. Their low sulfur content and strong flavor especially make a difference when eaten raw. Rocamboles have loose wrappers which makes them easy to peel, but shortens their shelf life. 7-11 cloves per head, 45-58 cloves per pound, harvest in late June to mid July.
From the Rocambole Group, we stock:
The Porcelain Group members have strong flavor which nearly rivals that of Rocamboles, plus, they have tighter fitting skin, increasing their storage potential to 6-9 months. Only 4-6 cloves per head, about 40 cloves per pound, harvest in late June to early July.
From the Porcelain Group, we stock:
Planting: Garlic is best planted in Sept.-Nov., but there is also a planting window from February to March which yields smaller heads. Separate the cloves just prior to planting, but don’t peel them, those skins will help prevent rot. Plant cloves 1”to 2” deep, root side down, pointed tip up. Space plants 6- 8” apart with rows 6-8” apart.
Culture: Full sun. Well drained, light, loamy soil rich in organic matter. Keep soil moist while the plant is growing new leaves. Let the soil dry as the leaves turn brown.
Growing: Keep well weeded. Side dress in March with cotton seed meal or blood meal. Another option is a foliar-spray fertilizer, such as Alaska Fish Fertilizer, every 10-14 days, starting in March.
When summer arrives, garlic stops making new leaves and starts forming bulbs. Once bulbing begins (~6/15), stop fertilizing and decrease watering.
As the bulbs mature, the leaves turn brown from the bottom of the plant up. Stop watering when 7-8 green leaves remain. In years with a wet June, it may be that a fall planted garlic crop never needs water.
Hardneck varieties put up a tall, woody, flowering stalk that usually grows bulblets at top. CUT FLOWER STALKS OFF as soon as the stem has reached 8-9” tall or made one full curl, this will redirect energy to the bulb.
Harvesting: When there are 4-6 green leaves remaining, dig up one plant, or dig a small hole to check soil moisture. If dry 4-6” deep, let plants continue browning until only 2 green leaves remain. If wet in the top 4-6”, dig plants now and begin curing.
Curing: With the leaves and stem still attached, hang plants in a place with excellent airflow but no direct sun, perhaps under an eave or on a covered porch. Slatted shelves or screens can also work. Cure for 6-8 weeks then trim the roots and stem and move to storage.
Storage: Hang garlic in netted sacks, or make and hang braids of the softneck types so there is air circulation on all sides. Perfect storage conditions are 45- 55°F at 50% relative humidity. Keeping garlic below 40°F actually makes it sprout.