How We Grow Garlic
Growing garlic is easy and enjoyable. Like so many things in life, the greater the effort you put in to it, the greater the end result will be.
The first thing is to select a variety or varieties that are suited to the area in which you live. This is not as difficult as it sounds since garlic has the ability to adapt somewhat to the environmental conditions in which it is grown. Generally, hard neck varieties perform best in cooler climates and soft neck varieties perform best in warmer climates. Since we live in a cooler climate with a Plant Hardiness Zone of 2a, we grow hard neck varieties. The main variety we grow is a Porcelain called Music.
Seeding takes place in the fall during the second half of September. Before seeding can begin, the soil must be prepared by tilling quite deeply and thoroughly.
The first step in seeding is cracking, which is breaking the heads of garlic apart into individual cloves. This is done by hand. There are machines for this job but they may damage the cloves. Damaged cloves could provide an opportunity for disease to take hold. We try to plant the cloves within 24 hours of cracking. If it is any longer the cloves may begin to dry out.
Each clove is planted approximately three and one half inches deep and six inches apart in double rows. The double rows are twelve inches apart and there is a space of forty-four inches between each set of double rows. It is advisable to not plant in the same place two years in a row. In fact, we use a four year rotation. Three years of cover crops followed by one year of garlic.
Hard neck varieties of garlic develop a central stock, which grows straight up and then makes one or two loops. This part of the garlic plant is called a scape. The scape contains a bulge where bulbils will form.
Around the end of June to the beginning of July the scapes can be removed. This is so the plant won't put energy into producing bulbils but will instead put all its energy into producing a large bulb. Many people don't realize that the scape is an edible part of the garlic plant. Although the flavour of the scape is milder than the bulb it can be substituted any time garlic is called for. We recommend eating scapes within three weeks of being picked. Fresh scapes will last up to three weeks in the refrigerator. Scapes can also be pickled. The same brine for cucumbers can be used for scapes. The taste will amaze you.
Harvest takes place during the first and second week of August. This is very exciting since everything is taken out of the ground and you can finally see the end result. We dig up the garlic when about one third of the leaves turn brown. It is necessary, especially with our heavy soil, to use an undercutter to loosen the plants from the soil or the bulbs will bruise or break off the stem when they are pulled out. The dirt is removed from the bulb and roots by hand and they are put into storage to cure for about five to seven days before making available for sale.