If you plant one thing in your garden, I think it should be garlic. A cool season crop that is easy to grow, low maintenance and immensely rewarding. Once you grow your own garlic, you’ll have a hard time going back to the store bought (often bleached and shipped from who knows where) varieties. There’s some kind of magic when it comes to growing garlic… you put a single clove in the ground and 9 months later you have a fully formed head with the most juicy and delicious cloves you’ve ever eaten!
A member of the allium family (along with onions, leeks, shallots, scallions, chives), garlic comes in two main subspecies (each of which has several cultivars):
- most often seen in grocery stores
- soft central stalk (allows for making beautiful garlic braids)
- better for longer storage
- often smaller but more numerous cloves per head
- no garlic scapes
- produce a hard central stalk
- often larger but fewer cloves per head
- produces garlic scapes
- more cold tolerant
This year I planted several cultivars of hardneck garlic.
You plant cloves in the fall (generally between the end of September and the end of October), harvest hardneck garlic scapes in late spring, and finally harvest the fully grown heads in the summer (July/August). Each year you can save your largest heads for your own seed and eat the rest! Even if you don’t have the so called “green thumb”, follow these steps and you will harvest your very own garlic crop in the summer!
- sourcing garlic heads locally will result in cultivars that are suited to your climate
- avoid grocery store garlic
- check out local garden centres or your local farmers market
- if possible plant several different cultivars to see which do best in your garden (you can save those for future seed)
Preparing Garden Beds
- select a sunny garden site
- garlic prefers rich soil
- mix some compost into your soil before planting
- loosen the soil with a shovel or garden fork (light, non-compact, soil will result in larger heads)
- carefully break heads up into individual cloves keeping the papery skin intact (if any of the skin comes off exposing the inner clove, set those aside and use them in the kitchen – don’t plant)
- plant cloves:
- pointy side up
- 2″ deep
- 4-6″ apart in rows that are 12-18″ apart
- I like to mark out my rows with a trowel or the handle of a rake, and then make holes a few inches deep every 6 inches. I then press a clove in each hole and cover with about 2 inches of soil.
- I have successfully grown garlic in a 4 ft x 8 ft raised bed, and spaced the rows only 6-8″ apart, so play around with the space you have
- cover beds with 4-6″ of mulch
- you can use straw or leaves as mulch which can help prevent soil compaction by winter rains, helps insulate cloves and helps suppress weed growth
I hope you try planting your own garlic this season. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to grow such a kitchen staple. I go through at least one head of garlic per week! If you have any questions post them in the comments section below!