I’m a garlic girl through and through. Truly. If I was stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the sea, you can bet I’d ask for garlic. To season the seafood I caught of course! Along with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemons, garlic is my go-to ingredient, always in my pantry and (nearly) always in my food. I just can’t enough.
So it makes sense for a gardener with a garlic bent to grow the stuff. I first tried growing garlic two years ago, with okay results. I planted in spring and had smallish but flavorful bulbs that season. But it wasn’t the robust garlic crop I had hoped for. So this year I’m attempting to redeem myself.
I started off this time by ordering garlic bulbs in the fall and planting them in early November. (Wish I snapped a photo!) This is so super easy, and much like planting tulips it takes a few minutes and the reward the following spring is worth many times the small effort put in during the fall.
Planting garlic is a breeze. I just broke each bulb into cloves, and planted each clove just as I would a tulip bulb… about 6 inches deep, 10-12 inches apart. A little mulch on top and they were ready for winter.
At the first sign of spring here in Wisconsin, garlic began to poke through the ground.
Garlic breaks through the ground.
As the season wore on, the garlic kept growing. It is hard to mess this up… it doesn’t need a lot of watering or attention. The only thing I did–which isn’t even necessary as far as I know–is to trim off the garlic scapes as they grew and began to curl around. Doing this allows the garlic to put more energy into growing the bulbs, resulting in bigger more flavorful bulbs. The added benefit of this practice is that I get to eat the garlic scapes, which are a delicious seasonal treat.
The garlic scape is the flower of the garlic plant.
When the scapes curl around like this I cut them off the plant.
Garlic scapes are great in pesto.
Once the garlic starts to get that dried out brown look, it’s ready to harvest. But a few weeks before, I pulled out a sample of young garlic (also called “green garlic”) to use with some salmon. Unlike garlic in its’ familiar cured form, the green garlic is juicier without the papery wrapping around it. It’s very fresh and the flavor is bright and spicy.
"Green" garlic and rosemary flavor this piece of salmon.
As for the curing process, I pull the garlic out of the garden when the green has turned 50-60% brown. For a day or two I let the whole garlic sit out on the deck to air dry. Once dry, I knock off the soil to prepare them for curing. I’m going for mostly clean, but just rubbing the soil off–no rinsing with water.
At this point the garlic is tied up in bunches of about six and hung in my garage. I put them in the garage because it’s outdoors but free of drafts and out of the sun. The garlic stays in the garage for three weeks or until it has that papery garlic look and feel.
Harvested garlic dries on the deck and then is bundled and tied for curing.
String or twine works great.
This garlic will cure in the garage for approximately three weeks.
Once cured, I cut off the stems, dust off any more soil, and put them in an open box or basket for storage. I keep my garlic in the basement and bring them up to the kitchen as needed. Homegrown garlic tastes great. I know where it was grown and what kind of soil was used. And like most things you grow yourself, there is a good return on the investment. I will get a few dozen bulbs that will last about six months.
Using the garlic is the best part. During the growing season garlic finds its way into salad dressings and pestos. I like to throw a whole bulb in with beets to roast in a foil packet. Garlic goes great with poultry, fish and meats too. In fact it’s hard for me to think of something I don’t love to eat with garlic. It’s the perfect flavor to go with all those greens I grow. Just sliced and sautéed in some oil, then throw the greens in. Soups and stew, and especially sauces, salsa and bruschetta toppings are not complete without the addition of garlic.
While I’m sure there are more detailed instructions on how to grow garlic than I’ve provided here, I do think growing garlic is truly this simple and shouldn’t be over thought. I remember when I thought there was some trick to growing garlic, but now I can see that it’s just a matter of planting in the fall and patiently waiting for nature to take its course. Couldn’t be easier!