Growing And Harvesting Garlic: It’s Easy And Tasty!

Garlic we harvested fresh out of the field. It will be hung to dry and sold in the fall.

Growing garlic is fun and will save you quite a bit of money compared to purchasing it at the store! Plus, your homegrown garlic will have tons more flavor!

Garlic doesn’t need special tools, takes hardly any space and is easily grown without chemicals. Let’s get going on the basics!

Growing garlic is easy and takes little space. When harvested the garlic can be eaten immediately or cured (hung to dry) to store it.

We started growing a larger amount of garlic to sell at the local produce markets about five years ago.

We just harvested over 7,000 bulbs that are hanging to cure right now.

The great thing about garlic is that for a small amount of acreage you can grow and sell a lot of garlic.

We have less than a quarter acre that we just harvested to get all of those bulbs.

The garlic provides a nice additional income source that is not land or labor intensive.

But we did not always grow garlic commercially, I used to just plant some for household use.

I love the fact that garlic is so easy! The vast majority of the time garlic spends growing is hands off for you.

Once the cloves are planted and the bed is mulched down with straw you are done until the next summer!

As long as you plant and harvest at the right time for your area there is little to go wrong.

We live in north central Ohio in growing zone 5 so our frost dates may be different than yours, this is the only part that might be tricky.

Garlic needs planted at the right time for your area.

Plant garlic 3 weeks before freeze up

We plant our garlic in mid October, this is also the first expected frost date for our area. We do all of our planting by hand.

There are machines available to plant and harvest garlic but we do not have either, plus they are pricey, so you would need to grow scads of acres of garlic for the machine to pay off.

The reason planting time is significant is you are wanting the garlic to get a bit of a head start on the growing season for next year.

It will have roots established already in the spring and can take right off growing.

Remember the garlic will be harvested in the summer (July for us) so to put on a big bulb it needs the head start of the fall before.

Plant garlic in your best soil

Choose a spot for your garlic that will not need to be disturbed for the next 8-9 months.

Most of the time the garlic is in the ground is over the winter months when it’s not actively growing.

Garlic needs well drained and fertile soil

Your top priority needs to be a well drained area.

Your chosen spot should have good drainage and high fertility, but keep in mind you can always amend the fertility but the drainage is harder to fix.

To get the field ready to plant we till up a new section of field every year with a five foot wide rototiller mounted on the back of a little tractor.

Plant cloves 6 inches apart in 18 inch rows

We plant 6 inches apart in rows that run the length of the bed. The rows are 18 inches apart, so we get three rows of garlic per bed.

Once the bed is ready have the cloves you will be planting sorted out by size.

When you break apart a bulb of garlic you will see the cloves are sections like orange segments arranged around a single stalk.

We have hardneck garlic, yours could look a bit different but still needs planted the same.

The cloves each have a paper like wrapper-try to keep the wrapper on the clove. Also, only plant cloves that are healthy with no wounds.

If you speared them while pulling apart the bulb consider eating the wounded cloves and just planting the others.

Plant only the biggest garlic cloves

If you can only, plant the biggest cloves, since the biggest cloves will grow the biggest garlic bulbs for you to harvest.

If you have to plant all of the cloves you have, both large and small, that is fine just know that the smaller cloves will produce a smaller bulb.

The cloves should be planted root end down well covered with soil.

I “pinch” the clove, root down!, with my thumb and first finger then shove my hand in the dirt until the soil hits the palm of my hand.

Mulching garlic after planting

Once all of your garlic is planted you need to mulch it.

The straw mulch provides a bit of winter protection but the main purpose is to reduce the weed pressure in the following year’s growing season.

We use 6-8 inches of straw.

I know that sounds like a lot of straw, but since you put on the straw by shaking it out over the planted beds of garlic the straw will be fluffy.

Jason will show you how we put the straw mulch on the planted garlic beds.

We need the mulch to fully cover the garlic bed once it has sunk down towards the ground and compacted together after being rained on.

We usually go back out and check the straw coverage a week or so later.

If there are any spots that need more straw now is the time, so the garlic will be well covered for winter.

Viable seeds in the mulch material will grow!

Be aware that whatever your mulch material, if there are any living seeds in it, the seeds will grow in with your garlic!

We generally use wheat or barley straw and they both have had viable seeds in the straw.

Since both wheat and barley are small grains that are planted in the fall, we get a nice amount of grain in with our garlic.

Not ideal but not a big deal either.

In our area wheat and barley grow through the winter, but oats will freeze out.

If that is the case where you live a mulch of oat straw will not grow baby oats in the spring with your garlic.

Growing Garlic In The Garden is a fact sheet for Ohio garlic, your state or region will have something similar, as well.

Think twice before using rye straw as mulch

Be wary of rye straw.

Rye is a superstar winter grower, so that will make it through all but the harshest winters, and rye has an alleopathic effect on other plants in the same area.

This means it inhibits the growth of the other plants next to it. Not good news for your garlic.

We’ve never mulched the garlic with rye straw, so maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but you will need to decide for yourself on this one.

If you plan to cultivate the garlic, don’t mulch

Some people set up the garlic bed so it can be cultivated, mechanically weeded. This is of course an option for you as well.

We choose to not cultivate, but instead just mulch.

Garlic needs little care when growing

In the spring when the garlic spikes pop through the top of the mulch is always a neat thing to see.

Plus you get to see how good you are at keeping to your lines and spacing! As far as what you need to do-nothing really.

Not a lot of care is needed while the garlic is growing.

The only exception is that in the early summer the plants will send up a round seed stalk from the top of the plant-this is called the scape.

The scape is the garlic plant trying to flower.

You’ll take off the garlic scapes

We snap off the scapes when they start to curl over, if let go they will curl like ram horns.

Make sure you let the scape curl. If you snap it off too early, before the curl, it grows back!

You’ll need to walk through your garlic a few times a day to catch all of the scapes as they curl.

The scape snapping period will last for a few weeks.

There is no set date for the scapes to appear, just check your plants every few days in early summer.

Any scapes that you miss will make that plant have a smaller bulb, but it will still have a bulb.

Snap the garlic scapes, do not pull them

We have read that some people recommend pulling the scapes off, but I don’t care for that method.

I feel pulling the scapes can dislodge the root hairs (but not always pull up the whole plant) and that would set back the plant.

We don’t have proof of this, it just makes me nervous, so we don’t do it.

Around here people sell the scapes just like you would sell any other vegetable, some are even sold at the produce sale!

I like to cook them in butter, try it they are great!

Harvest garlic when 2 leaves turn brown

Garlic is ready to harvest when the bottom two leaves start to turn brown.

Once again please remember I have hard neck garlic, if you have some other kind you may need to watch for a different sign of readiness from the plant.

Harvesting garlic is rush time

This is the only time where there is really a rush to get your garlic done.

The garlic must be harvested on time, you have a week to 10 day window of ideal plant maturity.

Your garlic needs to be harvested at this time. No matter the weather, get that garlic dug!

Late harvested garlic has poor bulb wrapping

What happens if I’m late? Well if you are just growing the garlic for home use, not a lot. It will be less pretty but it will still taste fine.

If you are hoping to store the garlic for a longer time or sell it, being late to harvest will be a problem.

Each of the leaves of the plant correspond with a layer of wrap on the bulb.

As each leaf dies the layer of wrap that goes with it starts to degrade away off of the bulb.

If you want the bulb to have a good solid marketable wrap then you must harvest the plant while the majority of the wrap layers are still in good shape.

Once again, for home use this isn’t a huge deal, to sell this is a biggie. Buyers do not like exposed (no wrap) cloves on the bulb.

Harvest the garlic by careful digging

We use a flat tined pitchfork, called a potato fork, to dig the garlic.

Push the fork into the ground about 6 inches back from the bulb you are trying to dig.

Now rock the fork back and hopefully the bulb will lift up. If not move the fork over a little and try again.

Do not try to lift the bulb again until you move the fork, you will scrape it with the fork tines! Just move the fork over an inch or so and try again.

Check each garlic bulb as you dig

Be sure to check each bulb as you dig it to make sure you are not scraping or puncturing the bulb and not realizing it.

It would be a shame to get all of your garlic dug only to discover you had skewered each one!

An additional digging tip-as you are popping up the garlic bulbs from under the soil surface you will be making a crack in the soil down the row.

Continue using the crack for your next bulb you will dig, The initial crack will have loosened up the soil a little so the following bulb will come out easier.

Hang the garlic to cure

Bunches of garlic hanging in the drying shed. You can see the light coming in from the sides, it needs to be well ventilated to cure.
Bunches of garlic hanging over pipes in the rafters of the barn. The garlic will stay here to cure for 4-6 weeks depending upon the weather (humidity mostly).

Your garlic needs to cure in order to store well.

We hang ours up, leaves and all, in bunches of 20 in the shape of an X, 10 per side.

We tie the bunch at the middle of the X with twine, then put it over a pipe in the rafters of a barn.

Sort and hang garlic bulbs by size

We sort the garlic into bunches by bulb size.

This initial sort does two things:

  1. keeps out the biggest bulbs, the “keepers”, for us to use as seed for next planting
  2. makes it easier to get a uniform group of bulbs to get ready to sell for the produce auction.

Since we are handling the bulbs anyway, we might as well make it easy on ourselves later.

We have found that mixed size bulbs in a peck basket will still sell, they just bring more if the group is uniform.

Sorting now makes finding uniform groups to sell easier, once the garlic is cured.

Hang garlic until stems are completely dry

The garlic will hang until the stem is completely dry-about a month or so.

I have seen videos of people using a cable strung up in a barn for the garlic and I have seen people cure the garlic on an open air shelf as well.

We have the rafters and the pipe so that is what we use.

Be aware that as the bulb cures the leaves dry and the bunch of garlic can slip through the twine and fall on the ground.

Just look at the bunches quickly every day or two and see if any need to be retied.

Prep the garlic bulbs to sell

The garlic that we choose to sell at the produce auction will look better, and sell better if “cleaned up” a bit.

By this I mean that we peel off the outer layer of papery skin on the bulb, cut the stem and trim off the roots nearly even with the bottom of the bulb.

Now it looks clean and beautiful!

Here we show you how we prep garlic bulbs for sale.

Some sellers do not prep the garlic they sell. It will still sell, but not as well as it could have with a little prep work.

The more work the buyer has to do to use or resell your garlic the less that garlic is worth to them compared to garlic that is ready to be used or resold.

We routinely get more money for our garlic because it is sorted, beautiful and customer ready.

Curing helps garlic store longer

The length of time your garlic will store well is completely based on the type of garlic you grew, assuming of course that you cured the bulbs properly.

Ours will store through the winter but by late spring to early summer all of the cloves left in the house are sprouting.

Sprouted garlic is no problem eating wise, just cook them like normal.

Actually I recall reading somewhere that sprouted garlic is good for you. (Sorry, I don’t recall the source!)

Either way, sprouting is a sign that the cloves will not be around too much longer, so use them up quick or freeze or dehydrate them.

We try to have all of the garlic that we are planning to sell done by mid November, since that is when the produce auction stops for the year.

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