Soaking Garlic

Before Planting

There's something to be said for being stinky and strong tasting to chase away diseases and pests for millennia.  Garlic has sulfurous compounds that defend it against pests and strains of fungi and bacteria.  No matter who allium sativum parents were, they had strong survival instincts. The plants used their strong, stinky sulfur compounds, which are released it combined when garlic is crushed or bitten, to protect themselves from predators and parasites.  Garlic isn't immune to everything; There are biological enemies which suggest that garlic isn't all that tough after all.  Despite garlic's sulphur compounds, garlic is susceptible to diseases.   Most of the threats can be controlled by good garden practices such as removing and destroying plants that look sick, avoiding too much watering (and subsequent soggy soil), and planting only healthy unblemish cloves.  Crop rotation -- changing the planting location also helps prevent the spread of viruses and fungi.  And, it is always a good idea when you trim plants or remove scapes, to remove plants from the area, just in case they're harboring bugs or diseases.

Before putting garlic 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 provides a nutritional boost for our garlic and acts as an 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 mold, bacteria or other bad things that could survive the long, cold winter, and play mischief and create chaos in your garlic patch, next spring.   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.

First Soaking : 8-24 Hours.

This first soak is pretty simple. Our ingredient list:

  • 30-40 Large Garlic Cloves

  • 1 Tablespoon Baking soda

  • One Gallon Lukewarm Water

  • 1 Tablespoon Fish emulsion and/or 1 additional Tablespoon 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.  This solution is adequate for 30-40 large cloves.  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 glass (or stainless steel container) and cover with either Vodka, Isopropyl Alcohol 50-70%, 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.

Notes and Additional Information

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) - NaHCO3, is a crystalline salt, found in a natural mineral form in nahcolite deposits and is ground to a fine powder.   Sodium bicarbonate can promote the action of some antibiotics that work against bacterial growth. Owing to its pH regulation activity, sodium bicarbonate reduces the pH gradient across bacterial membranes.  How does sodium bicarbonate work?  It plays both a promoting as well as an inhibiting role in antibiotic action. On one hand, sodium bicarbonate decreases the potency of most tetracyclines as a decrease in the pH gradient reduces protonation of tetracycline and lowers its uptake by bacteria. On the other hand, sodium bicarbonate increases the potency of many aminoglycoside antibiotics that rely on the increase in charge differential to enter bacterial cells upon a pH decrease due to bicarbonate.  Today, this chemical powerhouse is produced globally, with an estimated volume of 2 million tons per year.   The science of baking soda, this unassuming salt, has a multitude of domestic and industrial uses, including as a food additive, medicine, and cleaning product. 

Isopropyl alcohol is a colorless, flammable chemical compound (chemical formula CH3CHOHCH3) with a strong odor.    Isopropyl alcohol, particularly in solutions between 60% and 90% alcohol with 10 – 40% purified water, is rapidly antimicrobial against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Once alcohol concentrations drop below 50%, usefulness for disinfection drops sharply. Notably, higher concentrations of alcohol don’t generate more desirable bactericidal, virucidal, or fungicidal properties. The presence of water is a crucial factor in destroying or inhibiting the growth of pathogenic microorganisms with isopropyl alcohol. Water acts as a catalyst and plays a key role in denaturing the proteins of vegetative cell membranes. 70% IPA solutions penetrate the cell wall more completely which permeates the entire cell, coagulates all proteins, and therefore the microorganism dies. Extra water content slows evaporation, therefore increasing surface contact time and enhancing effectiveness. Isopropyl alcohol concentrations over 91% coagulate proteins instantly. Consequently, a protective layer is created which protects other proteins from further coagulation.  Vapors are heavier than air and mildly irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat.  It is sold in 50%, 70% and 91% aqueous solution as rubbing alcohol. 

Fish Emulsion  Fish emulsion is an organic garden fertilizer that is made from whole fish or parts of fish. It provides an NPK ratio of 4-1-1 and is most often used as foliar feed to provide a quick nitrogen boost. Using fish for fertilizer isn’t a new concept. In fact, settlers at Jamestown used to catch and bury fish to use as fertilizer. Organic farmers across the globe use fish emulsion in place of toxic chemical fertilizers. Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1, a fish emulsion fertilizer manufactured by Lilly Miller, is a natural source of plant nutrition derived from a blend of seagoing fish. The numbers 5-1-1 are the N-P-K ratio, which indicates the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Alaska Fertilizer 5-1-1 contains 5 percent nitrogen, 1 percent phosphorus and 1 percent potassium, as well as smaller amounts of essential minerals such as calcium, sulfur, magnesium and sodium. Fish fertilizer contains a lower concentration of nutrients than traditionally processed fertilizers, which means the nutrients are released into the soil slowly and the effects last longer.  A fresh emulsion fertilizer mixture can be easily made from one-part fresh fish, three-parts sawdust, and one bottle of unsulfured molasses. It's usually necessary to add a little water too. Place the mixture in a large container with a lid, stirring and turning daily for about two weeks until the fish are broken down.    

Liquid Seaweed  is a fertilizer is organic and sustainable and provides a vast array of nutrients that can help all kinds of plant life. One of the best fertilizers you can use on your plants is liquid seaweed. Most seaweed-based fertilizers are made from kelp, a variety of seaweed that can grow to lengths of hundreds of feet.  Plants have to deal with a lot of environmental stressors.  These include heat, cold, wind, drought and disease.  That’s where liquid seaweed fertilizer comes in.  Seaweed for plants has been used by gardeners and farmers for thousands of years.  People collected it off the beach and put it right on their gardens as a seaweed fertilizer diy and mulch that quickly broke down, releasing dozens of minerals and vitamins and other beneficial components.     Derived from fresh kelp, some liquid seaweed contains over 70 minerals, micronutrients, amino acids and vitamins. Used for years by organic farmers for its many plant health benefits. Also, encourages tolerance to plant stresses such as frost, pests, disease and drought.  Note: The EPA has recently decided that liquid seaweed must be registered as a plant growth regulator (PGR). Registration is both time-consuming and expensive, and requires additional testing if the product is used in food production. As a result, this manufacturer — and many others — have placed the following statement on their labels “This product is not intended for agricultural use on any food crops.” while they work through the application process.

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