Planting the Next Crop of Garlic?
Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Hardneck garlic is the last crop we plant in the fall. Garlic can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked, though fall planting is recommended for most gardeners. Hardneck garlic requires a period of cold winter temperatures to encourage the seed to divide and grow into separate cloves that form the head of garlic. This process is called vernalization. By planting cloves a few weeks before the first frost, bulbs begin to develop roots and anchor themselves into the soil. Frost heaves can "float" the planted cloves to the surface of the soil; Roots help prevent this. We've also learned that by planting garlic in the fall, the resultant cloves become more flavorful as compared to cloves planted in the spring. We planted a lot of garlic from GroEat Carlic Farm, a family-owned farm in Bozeman, Montana that grows and sells naturally grown gourmet bulbs for both eating and planting.
The hardneck garlic crop consists of an underground bulb and above-ground vegetation which consists of leaves and flowers. The rooting system is fibrous while the bulbs comprise small-to-medium bulbils called cloves, which are the vegetative propagating materials of the crop. Hardneck garlic is a cold weather perennial crop with high nutrient and water requirements. Garlic can be grown under both rainfed and irrigated conditions; Both provide good results when grown on fertile well-drained and sand or silt-loam soils, with good moisture-retaining properties.
Getting a Box of Garlic Seed
After inspecting the beautiful varieties of garlic, we keep the different cultivars separate from each other. Each head or bulb is "cracked open" and the individual cloves are separated. This is done carefully, so as not to damage any of them. We keep as much of the skin on the cloves as possible. For the best results, we plant the medium and largest cloves from each bulb and save the smaller ones for eating. We plant hardneck garlic which is very hardy, and produces large-sized cloves with an earthy-sweet flavor. Some of the varieties we plant include: Bogatyr (marbled purple stripe), Chesnok Red (Purple stripe), German Extra-Hardy (Porcelain), Georgian Fire (Porcelain), Metechi (Marbled Purple Stripe), Music (Porcelain), Persian Star (Purple Stripe) and Purple Glazer (Glazed Purple Stripe).
To learn more about the genetic diversity among U.S. Garlic Clones as Detected U sing AFLP Methods, read this 2004, published in the Journal of American Society of Horticulture Science -- by Gayle Volk, Adam Henk and Christopher Richards.
There are some preparation suggestions - before planting garlic.
SOAK - Before Planting the Garlic Cloves
Before putting the cloves into the ground, we soak them in two "stinky" solutions - that provide two important benefits. If you’ve never done this before and have grown beautiful garlic, that is great news! I offer this suggestion to you, and ask that you be open-minded to this garden tip, as it can prevent a tragedy in your garlic patch, and, it has the potential to help you grow even more exceptional garlic.
Garlic Soaking 101.
As I mentioned, soaking garlic provides two important benefits. First, soaking garlic in a solution of water, organic fish fertilizer and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer, and baking soda, for 24 hours, infuses the garlic with a boost of essential nutrients. It's like a fertilizer marinade, for the benefit of the garlic. The garlic will store this added energy and nutrients until spring. The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) acts as an inhibitor. Baking soda is considered a "significant killer" of bacterial suspensions and has been shown to significantly decrease the numbers of viable bacterial cells. This mixture is effective at killing bacteria and mold that might be hidden on the garlic cloves. Second, we follow up with another short bath of vodka, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which will sterilize the cloves and destroy any remaining mold, bacteria or other bad things that could survive the long, cold winter, and play mischief and create chaos in your garlic patch. This short, second soak, acts as an antiseptic, capable of destroying tiny mites hiding in the cloves, fungal diseases and microbes (or at least prevent or inhibit their growth). It doesn't get the garlic drunk on the alcohol.
First Soaking : 8-24 Hours.
This first soak is pretty simple. Our ingredient list is baking soda, water, and fish emulsion (and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer).
Fish emulsion fertilizer is made from whole fish and carcass products, including heads, eyes, bones, scales and skin. This product is processed to remove oils, and the liquid that remains after processing is fish emulsion. After straining out solids, sulfuric acid is added to lower the pH, preventing microbes from growing. A common fish emulsion is: Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1 . Liquid seaweed fertilizer is an alternative to fish emulsion. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is a concentrated formula containing nitrogen and nutrients. Most seaweed-based fertilizers are made from kelp, a variety of seaweed that can grow to lengths of over 40 metres. Trace elements found in organic seaweed fertilizers include magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and nitrogen—all of which are beneficial to garlic. Nitrogen, for instance, is essential to the production of nitrate, a key component needed by plants during photosynthesis.
Let's Begin by mixing the ingredients into a large stainless steel bowl or container.
1 gallon of lukewarm water.
1 Tablespoon of organic fish fertilizer (and/or 1 additional Tablespoon of liquid seaweed).
1 Tablespoon of baking soda.
We then gently place the cloves into the container, keeping all the garlic labels near each variety for easy identification. We let the cloves soak for 8 to 24 hours. You'll notice at the end of this stinky bath, some of the cloves may have increased in size do to the infusion and added fluid volume in the garlic's interstitial and intravascular space. Some of the garlic may be floating at the surface, others may be on the bottom of the container. Drain the fluid using a colander.
Second Soaking - Quick!
Our second soak goes quickly. We place the garlic cloves into a stainless steel container and cover with either Vodka, Isopropyl Alcohol 70%, or Hydrogen Peroxide. Soak for 10 minutes and drain.
Special Note: isopropyl alcohol is stinky and inhaling moderate amounts of isopropyl alcohol can cause irritation of the nose and mucous membranes, throat irritations, nausea, vomiting, and even difficulty with breathing. Perform this second soak in a well-ventilated area!
Just prior to planting, we let the cloves drain for a few minutes - this process ensures all the liquid is removed. We also wash our hands with soap before handling the garlic cloves as an added measure. Plant within 1 hour of the second soak.
Planting the Garlic Cloves
Garlic is a long-season crop. You can plant garlic cloves in the spring, though that single clove of garlic will produce a smaller bulb - as compared to a garlic clove planted in the fall. In the United States, garlic is planted from mid-October through November, several weeks before the ground freezes. We plant garlic around the 15th of October, weather permitting. Our garden site selection is a plot that gets full-sun (no shade). Garlic likes loose, fluffy, loamy soil, filled with a variety of minerals and nutrients. When preparing our soil for garlic planting, we add lots of organic matter, compost, manure, minerals, broken-down straw and organic fertilizer. We use a hydraulic tiller attached to a Cub Cadet tractor to blend all of the soil components. This same array of equipment is also used to create mounded rows that become the beds for the garlic. The mounded rows are about 24" wide. We keep at least a foot between each row. This allows for easy access to the garlic and we can walk the rows without disturbing the delicate roots.
We plant garlic in mounded rows and keep the cloves about eight inches apart. Some folks plant cloves closer together (3-6") though we've found 8" spacing works well. To make the holes for planting garlic, we grasp the clove pointy-side up and form a triangle-shaped wedge with our five fingers. By wiggling our fingers, and pressing into the soil, the clove easily finds its resting place 2-3 inches into the loose, fluffy soil. When planting thousands of garlic cloves, some folks use a dibble or a dibber. Keep in mind a dibbler can compress the soil and make it more difficult for the garlic roots to get established! Cloves are placed in the holes pointy-side up and the root side faced down.
After the entire row is planted, we double-check each hole to make sure there is a clove inside. Then, the garlic cloves are covered by backfilling the holes. Over the next month or so, the cloves will develop delicate white roots that have the appearance of angel-hair pasta. These roots will anchor the clove into the soil and keep it in place throughout the long, cold winter.
To Mulch or Not to Mulch?
After the garlic cloves have been put to rest in the soil, we cover the rows or beds with a layer of straw. Straw is abundant in our area, and is the byproduct of producing cereal grains. Cereal grains are the seeds that come from grasses such as wheat, millet, rice, barley, oats, rye, triticale, sorghum, and maize (corn). After the grains are harvested, the straw-like shaft of the plant is harvested and bailed separately. Garlic competes poorly with weeds, and several studies have shown that mulching garlic through winter with straw or coarsely chopped leaves leads to bigger and better yields. Winter mulch helps keep nutrients in the soil from leaching away, and also can help buffer little plants from strong winds.
What did I Plant?
To keep track of the different varieties of garlic planted at our farm, we use aluminum channels, cut to length (found at our local recycling center). Using a hand-held plasma cutter, the name of the garlic cultivar is cut into the metal. This metal stake won't fade in the sunlight and will last for many years to come.