Growing garlic at home: a mostly hands-off approach

Do you know how many varieties of garlic are available? Before I started gardening, I thought there was just one, since that’s all that is available at my local grocery store.

Now that I grow my own garlic, I know there are hundreds of varieties. There are hardneck and softneck varieties that range from mild to very spicy. If you are a gardener and a chef, get ready – you are going to love growing your own garlic and experimenting with different flavors!

Before placing your garlic order, read up on the different spice levels to see which suits your fancy. We will get into the nitty gritty of garlic next.

A Bowl of Cured Garlic from the Garden

Selecting the Best Variety of Garlic for Your Location

While softneck garlic typically performs best in locations with warm winters and hardneck garlic can handle more frigid conditions, one of the best ways to select a variety is to ask a local farmer at the farmer’s market. Even if you are in the south, you may find a farmer who has grown a hardneck variety for years, saving the adapted cloves each year to replant. Often, the farmers will have bulbs you can buy to plant in your garden.

Don’t stress about it too much, though. One fall, while on vacation in in a much cooler climate than we live in, my husband and I bought a sampler bag of garlic cloves at the farmer’s market to plant when we returned home. There were several hardneck varieties in the sampler bag that, despite being adapted to Colorado, did quite well in our hot Texas backyard.

Yes, you want to set yourself up for success, but you also want to have fun. Experiment and try the varieties that sound the tastiest

Types of Garlic

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is what you typically see in supermarkets because it stores longer than hardneck varieties. This is also the type of garlic you may see beautifully braided and hanging – the soft stems make for easier braiding. The individual cloves are usually smaller – though the bulbs are larger – and harder to peel. Softneck garlic typically does best in locations with milder winters.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic has larger individual cloves with a central woody stem. These are typically more colorful and come in a larger variety of flavors. They produce a stalk called a garlic scape that shoots up in the middle of the plant in the spring or beginning of summer. You can harvest the scapes and use them in dishes just like you would garlic or even pickle them for later use. Most hardneck varieties do best in locations that have cold winters.

How to Grow Garlic

Garlic has been one of the most hands-off edible plants I have grown. To sum it up as simply as possible, I plant it and then wait to harvest it approximately 8 months later.

So, how should you plant garlic?

As with planting most edible crops, prepare your soil with compost beforehand to give the garlic the highest chance of success. Being a root crop, it prefers loose soil and full sun.

It’s best for garlic to have time to sprout roots in the fall before winter comes, forcing it to go dormant. For this reason, plant it about four to six weeks before your average first freeze.

Break the garlic apart into individual cloves before planting. After breaking apart the bulbs, each farmer has their own preference for what to do before planting it. Some soak the bulbs in a fish emulsion bath, others do a hot water garlic seed treatment and others something else. My suggestion is to order your bulbs from a company that aligns with your growing values and then follow the recommendations they give for their garlic bulbs.

When planting, it’s important to plant the garlic with the root side down and the top of the clove pointing upwards, towards the sky. Plant the bulbs one to two inches deep and at least six inches apart, covering them with soil.

Since garlic grows during winter, it is important to cover the soil around it with mulch. Ideally, apply at least four inches of mulch, and use something light enough for the garlic to break through it in the spring. For most climates, row cover is not needed during freezing temperatures. Check with your local garden store or farmer to find out what is best for your area.

When to harvest garlic

The leaves will start to die, turning yellow and falling over. Several people have a magic number of leaves that they wait to die before harvesting. I wait until about half of them are yellow and pull up a few bulbs to check before continuing to harvest.

How to harvest garlic

You want to harvest garlic when the soil is dry. Check the weather when you know it’s time to harvest, and grab those bulbs before any heavy rain.

Dig around the base of the bulb while gently moving the plant back and forth until you are able to uproot it from the soil.

How to cure garlic

Once harvested, you can eat garlic right away (fresh) or leave it to dry in a well-ventilated area, out of the sun, for about 2-4 weeks to cure. The skin is dry and crispy when they are done curing.

How to prepare your garlic for use or storage

Watch the video that should be playing on the page right, or watch on YouTube.

I hope this helps you enjoy your harvest! Garlic has been one of the most hands-off edible crops I have grown, and it’s a kitchen staple at my house.

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