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Growing Tips: Garlic

Organic Garlic Growing TipsAromatic,
flavorful and healthful – there are hundreds of garlic varieties, but
they all fall into two basic categories: hardneck or softneck. Softneck
varieties are best grown in warmer climates. They tend to have a
stronger flavor, a larger number of smaller cloves per bulb, and a
longer shelf life. The stems are more pliable and are therefore more
suitable for braiding. Hardneck varieties, categorized by their hard,
woody stem, tend to have a milder flavor, with larger, but fewer cloves
per bulb. Most hardneck varieties don’t store as long, but are hardier
in colder climates. While these tendencies are a good guide, there are
exceptions to the rules. For instance, if you are in a cold climate,
looking for a robust flavored hardneck variety with good shelf life, our
German Extra Hardy is an excellent choice. If you are in a warm
climate, and would like to try a hardneck variety, you will find your
best success with our Chesnok Red.

Once you’ve chosen your variety, you will want to figure out how much to
plant and when to plant it. Garlic bulbs generally yield anywhere from 4
to 8 times their weight at harvest, but vary based on the variety and
growing conditions. When to plant depends greatly on where you live. In
northern climates, garlic is best planted in the fall. The cloves should
be given enough time to develop a root system without producing top
growth. In southern climates, garlic should be planted in early spring,
although the seed garlic must be chilled first in order to break
dormancy. It is planted in late February or March after the threat of
winter cold damage has passed.

Now it is time to prepare your soil for planting. Garlic prefers loose,
loamy soil with lots of organic matter. The bulbs should be separated
just before planting, leaving their protective papery layer in tact. You
will want to plant your largest cloves, while keeping aside the smaller
ones for fresh eating, drying or pickling. If you are planning to
mulch, plant each clove 2 inches beneath the soil with its basal root
end down and its pointed tip up. Without mulch, the cloves should be
planted 3 to 4 inches deep. Allow for 4 to 6 inches between cloves and
18 to 24 inches between rows to produce the largest bulbs. Some folks
have success with tighter spacing. This tends to yield a larger number
of smaller bulbs equaling a higher total weight per square foot of
garden space.

While it is not recommended in wet climates, mulching your garlic can be
very beneficial. This is especially true in cold climates where a good,
thick layer of mulch will help protect your garlic against winterkill.
Most people use straw, hay, or plastic mulch. The mulch helps to
moderate the soil temperature through freezing and thawing, and also
helps conserve moisture, while at the same time keeping the weed
competition low.

In the spring, your garlic tops will poke up through the mulch and begin
their growth spurt. If it is a cool spring, and garlic is off to a slow
start, you can remove some of the mulch, but be sure to leave a decent
layer in order to preserve the mulch’s benefits. Hardneck varieties will
produce a tall, curling flower stalk called a scape. These scapes
should be cut to encourage the plant to concentrate its energy into
producing a larger bulb. Scapes are edible and delicious and can be
enjoyed steamed or in stir-fries.

Garlic does best when soil moisture remains fairly even, but prefers
a dry spell for 2 to 3 weeks prior to harvest. Too much moisture
towards the end will encourage mold. Once about half of the bottom
leaves have died down, usually mid-late summer, it likely is time for
harvest. You may want to inspect a couple of bulbs first, as browning
leaves are a good indicator, but only an approximation of maturity.
Harvest your bulbs by loosening the soil with a shovel or fork and pull
the plants up by hand.

For fresh eating, enjoy your garlic any time after harvest, although, if
you plan to store your garlic, it must be cured first. Cure garlic in a
dimly lit area with plenty of airflow for 2 to 3 weeks after harvest.
After the curing process is complete, you can braid yoursoftneck garlic
or trim the stems of your hardneck varieties to about
an inch above the bulb. Store your garlic where it continues to have
plenty of airflow with optimal temperatures being between 35 and 50
degrees Fahrenheit with 65-70% humidity. Well-cured and well-stored
garlic keeps from 6-12 months depending on the variety, so that you can
enjoy your harvest all winter long.

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excellent  article. we grow great garlic here in teton county, one of the coldest valleys in WY.Even with global warming we get spells of -30-40 but we mulch with 6-12"straw after planting Oct 15 every year which provides the benefits described above but has the added bonus of allowing the earthworms to stay high in the soil, just under the mulch. They till the soil  all winter! The german extra hardy is a superb variety. We pull the straw after the last frost to get soil temps up, our summers are cool. we keep the biggest cloves as seed stock and rotate beds to prevent disease.

Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow, and each year the number of cloves planted in our garden increases.  In the past seven years, varieties grown (5b) have been Chet's Italian Red, Chesnok Red, Georgian Fire, German Extra Hardy, Inchelium Red, and Persian Star.  The ones I enjoy and have grown most are Chet's Italian Red, Georgian Fire, and Chesnok Red.  A new variety growing in our garden this year is Spanish Roja.  This year's harvest should yield seventy-seven bulbs of garlic.  Woo-hoo! 

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