Details of Growing Garlic:
feed it, weed it, give it space
In late fall, 3–4 weeks before the ground freezes, prepare a nitrogen-rich well-groomed seedbed. Garlic is a heavy feeder, and giving more nutrients and more space between cloves generally yields larger bulbs.
Break the bulb into cloves and plant them pointed side up about 3" deep and 6–10" apart. Mulch with 4–6" of hay, leaves or straw. Some folks skip the mulch, but plant 5–6" deep.
In spring, move the mulch to free any struggling spears, then replace it to keep moisture even and to help prevent weeds. Top dress or foliar feed, and provide adequate and even moisture while growing, to encourage larger bulbs to form.
In midsummer, the scapes of hardnecks will begin to unfurl and stand up. Leave them on and get somewhat smaller bulbs plus bulbils, or cut them off for larger bulbs at harvest plus scapes to eat as green garlic now, or dry them for winter arrangements.
In mid-late summer, allow the soil to dry out some beginning about a week before harvest. Check bulb growth when the bottom leaves are yellow and 5–6 leaves are still green, late July to early August for us in central Maine. Harvest bulbs before cloves begin to separate. Use a fork to loosen the soil and lift gently.
Tie and hang to cure in a well-ventilated place, protected from sun and rain, until dry. Do not field-cure.
To store, trim roots, trim tops to within 1" of the bulb, rub off loose skins and any dried dirt, and store in a cool dry place. Softneck type may be braided after curing.
Blue-Ribbon Garlic Growing Tips
- Big bulbs need space for roots, high levels of nitrogen, sufficient trace minerals, and consistent moisture levels.
- The roots of garlic spread 3-4" on either side of the bulb. Plant the cloves 10" apart to optimize root growth and nutrient uptake. Space rows 1' apart. Push individual cloves down about 1½", so the tip of the clove is just at the soil surface.
- Cover the bed with 2-3" of well-rotted compost. Then add nitrogen sources such as a heavy application of composted manure, or a mix of either alfalfa meal (3#/100 sq ft) or fish meal (3#/100 sq ft) with soybean meal (5#/100 sq ft). Fish and alfalfa meals feed the fall root growth; the soybean meal breaks down slowly and is available the following spring.
- Azomite (2#/100 sq ft) supplies trace minerals critical to increasing the overall size of the bulbs. Kelp meal (1#/100 sq ft) is an option which supplies even more minerals.
- Mulch provides protection from frost heaving, and weed protection and moisture regulation in summer. Apply mulch after fall planting, and leave mulch on throughout the spring and summer.
- Water crop during prolonged dry spells.
- In mid-June, just as the garlic begins to form heads, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of blood meal around each stalk, to give a charge of nitrogen just when it is needed.
Types of Garlic
Softneck garlic produces multiple rings of cloves and a soft braidable top. Softneck types have mostly lost the ability to produce a stalk with flowering parts—but sometimes they bolt and produce extra “cloves” in the stem.
Hardneck garlic forms a scape with a hard stalk in the center of the bulb, and (the vast majority of the time) only one ring of cloves. Plant grows an edible scape, a tall leafless stalk with a flower-like top. Not braidable, but can be tied and hung in attractive bundles.
Cut off the scape before it uncurls to get the best bulb size. Not easy on a commercial scale, but on a smaller scale it’s not much work, plus fresh scapes can be used in salads, stir-fries, pickles, pesto!
If you leave the scape on, the bulb will likely be smaller, but you’ll get a membrane full of bulbils which you can eat, or plant in autumn for greens for next spring, or plant and leave for two years for full-sized bulbs.
Hardnecks are closer to wild garlic, and have a greater range of character and a more complex flavor than softnecks. Much hardier as well, hardnecks are recommended for cold climates.
Fedco Bulbs requires our growers and suppliers to test each lot of garlic for garlic bloat nematode using reputable independent labs.