Planting Garlic

Like other fall bulbs, I love planting garlic because I can do it in the fall and it feels like I get a jump start on my garden.

Why Plant Garlic?

It’s practical.

Garlic is one of those things I can never have enough of in my kitchen. It seems like every recipe I make starts with chopping up some onions and garlic. I also rarely follow the amount of garlic it suggests. “Add two cloves?” Mmmkay. How about six instead?

It doesn’t take up much space.

The great thing about planting garlic, is that it doesn’t take up much space. If you go by the square foot gardening method, you can fit about six cloves in a 1×1 area. That means by planting approximately one bulb of garlic, you will end up with six bulbs when it comes time to harvest.

You get a jump start on the garden.

As I mentioned above, garlic can be planted in the fall. This gives you a jump start on the next gardening season.

Two harvests!

Another bonus of growing your own garlic rather than buying it, is you get to harvest TWO things. Ever heard of garlic scapes? This delectable sprout that grows out of your garlic top can be harvested in early spring and it can be substituted in for garlic in most recipes. Or you can make a stellar pesto. Scapes only grow on hardneck varieties. More on that below.

garlic bulb rough and tumble farmhouse

Garlic as Medicine

Garlic has been cultivated and used for its culinary and medicinal benefits for centuries. People use it for sore throats, coughs, colds, and to build up their immune system in general.

It has been widely used in Europe from the time of recorded history. In the Americas, Indigenous folks have used a native species for treating all kinds of ailments.

In WWII, garlic was used to treat wounds as an antiseptic, meaning it can combat disease and bacteria.

Herbalists use garlic today to treat colds and respiratory ailments. It can be used to help with gas pains and even get rid of intestinal worms. It may also lower cholesterol, reduce hypertension, and treat muscle spasms.

If I were to only have one herb in my arsenal, I think it would be garlic.

Garlic Varieties

There are oodles of garlic varieties you can choose from, so I advise getting in touch with a friendly garlic grower near you to ask what has worked well for them.

Most garlic is going to fall into one of two categories: hardneck or softneck.

Hardneck Garlic

One of the major differences between the two is that, as the name indicates, hardneck garlic will have a stiff stalk that puts up a bolt. That is where you can get scapes from. These must be harvested for you to get a good sized bulb.

Hardnecks are more closely related to wild varieties. As such they tend to be hardier, do well in cooler climates, and they take a little longer to mature. They come in many different colors. The cloves are larger, but they do not store as long as softneck garlic.

seed garlic for planting rough and tumble farmhouse
Beautiful hardneck garlic all ready to plant.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic was developed from hardneck varieties. With the softer neck you are able to braid them, which always looks beautiful. The cloves tend to be smaller and more numerous than hardneck. Some also say they are spicier in flavor. They also mature more quickly. Softneck varieties are better for storage which is why most varieties of garlic in grocery stores are softneck.

In Minnesota, everyone I know plants hardneck garlic. The most popular varieties I hear about are Porcelain, Music, and Russian.

You can find more information about types of garlic in this great article from the University of Vermont.

Planting Garlic

Selecting a Location

Garlic likes full sun and well drained soil. Don’t plant garlic in a place that you had other types of alliums (things like onions) or garlic the previous year to help with disease resistance. A minimum of four growing seasons between planting in the same spot is best.

how to plant garlic rough and tumble farmhouse

Preparing the Bulbs

Once you’ve brought home your bulbs, you will need to break them apart. Try to break apart the bulbs on the same day you intend to plant them for best results.

Simply separate the cloves from the bulb, GENTLY. Be sure not to nick a bulb with your finger nail or plop them roughly in a bowl.

When it comes to preparing garlic for planting, I always laugh and think of my mentor who I apprenticed with for four years. I worked at his family’s organic vegetable CSA. When handling produce and planting delicate seedlings my first year, I would be too rough with them. He’d always jokingly sing that song “Slow Hand” (Pointer’s Sisters version). “You want a man with a slow hand. You want a lover with an easy touch.”

So handle those bulbs with an easy touch and you’ll be just fine.

clove of garlic rough and tumblefarmhouse
Two cloves of garlic for planting.

Planting Garlic Bulbs

In Minnesota we plant garlic in early to mid October. You can probably go later if you are in a warmer zone.

Loosely tilled soil is what you are aiming for when planting your garlic, just to make it easier to plant. I’ve heard of planting the bulb down anywhere from 1-4 inches, so there is quite the range you can experiment with. Plant them so the pointed end is facing up. Space them anywhere from 4-6 inches apart. I will typically jab my thumb in, plant a bulb, then wherever the ends of my fingers are, I will dig down to plant the next bulb.

Cover with soil and give a nice soak with the hose. Then add a layer of mulch on top. Leaves, straw, corn stalks even, whatever you have handy. Add a layer about 4-6 inches thick.

Keep an eye on the garlic in the spring. Once the shoots are starting to come up you can pull the straw away from it.

garlic bed rough and tumble farmhouse

Watch and Learn

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how to plant garlic bulbs rough and tumble farmhouse

Sources

University of Vermont

Magic and Medicine of Plants

Rodale’s Garden Answers

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