Growing Great Garlic - By Katina Provencal
With the garlic bulk buy delivery just around the corner, I thought I would share the steps to growing great garlic.
The first consideration is LOCATION. Garlic enjoys full sun and does better in raised beds. Avoid DISEASE by moving garlic beds yearly, using good seed stock and having your soil tested regularly. Garlic enjoys SOIL that is rich in nitrates. I like to use alpaca poop since it is high in nitrates and does not have to be aged. Soil pH should be between 6.2 and 6.8.
It is important to choose the right SEED STOCK for your area. In NH, stiff neck garlic like German White or German Red is the most hardy and grows best in colder climates like ours. It is also a good idea to acclimate your seed to your soil type by planting back some of what you grow or at least buy locally grown seeds.
Before planting in the fall, FERTILIZATION is key. Compost, alfalfa meal or soybean meal, and alpaca poop or composted chicken poop can all be put down in the fall. PLANTING should be done Columbus Day weekend in NH. Bulbs should be broken apart into cloves and soaked in a 9:1 water:bleach / vodka bath for 20-30 minutes to kill off any fungus or disease. Do not peel cloves. Each clove will produce one new bulb. Plant cloves 6 inches apart in rows with 12 inches between each row. Plant the clove 3-4 inches deep with the pointed end up and the root plate down. Using the end of a rake to make the hole works great. Then loosely cover the clove with dirt. The roots should have time to start before winter. Once the ground gets crusted / frosted up it is time to cover your crop with 4-6 inches of wheat free straw or chopped leaves (no grass clippings).
In the spring, when the stems start poking out of the straw, move the straw to the side so they are uncovered and get full sun. The straw can then be used for weed control or removed completely. Late spring or early summer when the stems are between 6-8 inches tall, spray leaves every 7-10 days with Neptune’s Harvest (an organic fish and seaweed fertilizer or use a fish emulsion).
It is important to keep the WEEDs out of your garlic garden. Garlic does not like weeds. If you do not weed, you could lose 20-30% of your bulb size.
Scapes are the curley, green, middle stems and can be removed once they curl once (for hard neck garlic like German Whites and Reds). Once it curls, remove the scape as low on the base as possible. If you do not remove the scape, it will negatively affect the size of the bulb.
Bulbs are ready for HARVEST five weeks after the scape curls - usually about mid July. Loosen the earth around the stem and then pull up. Brush the dirt off the bulb. Bulbs bruise easily, so do not bang or knock around. Also do not use water to wash the bulb! After garlic is harvested, plant a cover crop like mustard, buckwheat or oats to help rebuild the soil.
DRY the bulbs for about 3-4 weeks bundled with string and hung where there is no sun and good airflow. Then you can cut stems 5-6 inches long (you can choose to remove the roots or leave them on) and put on a rack where there is still good airflow. Once the stem is hard, they can be stored hung or in an onion bag with good airflow until eaten or planted for next year’s harvest.