Garlic is easy to grow, and while it is relatively hassle-free, you will reap some pretty awesome rewards at the end of the growing season.
There is no time like the now-time (late fall) to think about planting your bulbs, and I have a couple quick tips to get your garlic garden started!
1. Get the grocery store goods: You could pay a bundle for a bulb or two of garlic at your local nursery, and it might grow. But, if you just want to have some garlic to spice up your kitchen and are unconcerned with knowing the exact variety, there is a much easier and cheaper way to get started. Go to the grocery store! All you need to plant garlic is a garlic bulb, and you can buy a pack of 10 or 11 for under a buck, or buy a string at your local farmer's market! But, make sure to pick the organic variety - other bulbs may have been grown with artificial fertilizers or be pumped with hormones that prevent new growth.
The garlic you buy in the store is a garlic bulb. Buy an organic bulb, and you're well on your way to growing garlic! Here are some I harvested this summer that came from an organic Mexican variety.
2. Split up the bulb: A garlic bulb is typically composed of about 8-10 cloves. Split up the bulb and set aside the smallest cloves for kitchen use. With your four or five remaining UNPEELED cloves, head out to the garden and find an optimum spot that gets plenty of sun. Most of garlic's growth is vertical, and it can get quite tall, so cloves can be planted near eachother - about five inches apart without issue. It's important to plant garlic in the late fall or early winter (in most climates) because it needs a very long growing season. In the winter, it can work on developing its roots and forming its bulb and in the summer, it will begin to grow.
3. Plant the cloves: Dig a small hole 6-8 inches and, with the pointy end up and the stout end down, push the garlic directly into the soil. If you have any leftover coffee grounds, a handful on top of the clove will help it grow, as garlic likes an acidic soil pH. But, if you are not growing the garlic near a sidewalk, a foundation or in a rocky area, this shouldn't be a concern. Cover the clove with soil and a bit of mulch to keep it insulated over the winter.
4. Sit back and relax: Garlic needs very little attention except attentive weeding. Move the mulch aside when temperatures are warm. Water it normally, holding off in times of rain. Garlic flowers are large, beautiful ball-shaped blooms, but if you let your plant flower, the bulb will likely not grow as large, so cut off flower stalks as you see them.You may notice over the winter that bulbs may begin to sprout - but do not be concerned. Even if they die down in the frost of the winter, they will come back next spring, and will be ready to harvest in the fall.
5. Harvesting time: When the leaves have yellowed and died, it is time to dig up your cloves, which are now ... tada ... garlic bulbs!
Garlic flowers are very beautiful. But if your main concern is harvesting the largest possible bulb, you should snip off flower stalks so the plant can focus its energy into bulb growth. I plant several cloves each year so I can enjoy both the beautiful flowers and the larger bulbs.
And it really is just that simple. Garlic may very well be the easiest herb to grow.
For more information about garlic, read these Herb Companion articles:
• Dancing in the Kitchen with Garlic
• Garlic Obsession
• The Goodness of Garlic
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