How do I grow garlic?
August 18, 2007 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me grow garlic?

I harvested it from my grandfather's garden and wish to continue its lineage. It is of the variety of smaller-with-purple-tints garlic, cloves about the size of a golf ball.

I know my best bet is planting single cloves but I would like to maximize my potential harvest. Do the top of the plants, the seeds that look a bit like popping corn, grow when planted? If so, what is the best way to plant them?
posted by iurodivii to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
You want to separate the cloves and plant them pointy-end up, about 2 inches down and a few inches apart.

I'm way too impatient to let any alliums get all the way grown before eating them, so I trim off the greens as they grow and eat them. Garlic greens are delicious!
posted by janell at 7:28 PM on August 18, 2007

If you want bigger heads of garlic, plant the biggest cloves and eat the smaller ones.

Here in the Midwest, I plant garlic around Columbus Day in October and harvest when the leaves turn yellow and fall over, usually mid-June.
posted by Ostara at 7:36 PM on August 18, 2007

Auxillary question: Will garlic grow indoors? i.e. could I plant an indoors window box with garlic and expect it to grow, for a year-round harvest?
posted by SpecialK at 7:49 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The mini bulbs (just my name for them) that grow in a bunch if you let the flower go to seed do grow if you plant them, but you will only get basically one clove out of each of those. I have done that. Not sure if they turn into a whole head the next year because I had garlic everywhere and didn't keep a separate section for those ones. Just plant them after garlic harvest time, ie late summer. Now would be good.
posted by Listener at 8:51 PM on August 18, 2007

I've only grown garlic outdoors, in the ground, but as I understand it, indoors, in containers you would be successful at growing the greens, but not so successful with the bulbs. The bulbs are not impossible in containers, but you would need a really big container per bulb. If you grow a lot outside, harvest in the summer and dry it, it should last for a long time, though. Right?
posted by Airhen at 9:00 PM on August 18, 2007

Plant your biggest cloves the way janell said, into soil with lots of organic matter (basically the more compost the better), don't overwater, don't let it dry out, and give it lots of sunshine. Inside in pots is fine if you have an equator-facing window.

Each single clove you plant will turn into a whole bulb in one growing season. You can mess about with seeds if you like, but they won't necessarily breed true; growing from cloves is essentially cloning, and will give you consistent results, while growing from seeds gets you the whole evolution thing.

If you do use seeds, keep your seed plants and your clove plants in separate plots so you can keep track of which is which. Occasionally you might find something new and excellent in your seed plot.

Harvest when the tops have yellowed and fallen over. Pull the whole bulb, brush off the compost, plait the tops together and hang in a dry and airy place.

Next year, planting the biggest cloves from your most flavoursome bulbs. The right time to plant is when you notice the cloves you're cooking with have started to show signs of pushing out green tips.

You can use garlic greens anywhere you'd use chives; just don't go in too hard with harvesting them, or you'll set your plants back. You'll do the plants the least damage if you just take the first few inches off the outermost leaves.
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 PM on August 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

By the way, applying excess nitrogen to garlic makes it grow leaves at the expense of bulbs, so if you're using packet fertilizers, don't pick a high-nitrogen one. Kitchen-scrap and newspaper compost works exceptionally well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:42 PM on August 18, 2007

Plant in the fall. This gives the root system time to grow during the winter.
Sounds like you have hard-neck garlic. Hardnecks try to reproduce by putting up the scapes with the seed pods. When that starts to develop, cut it off a few inches down from the pod (and fry it up). This causes the bulb to panic and make a much, much bigger bulb than it would have otherwise.
posted by MtDewd at 5:12 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jumping in here with a related question...
The cloves one plants...are these dried first? Or do they have to be "fresh from the bulb" cloves?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:42 AM on August 19, 2007

Call your local agricultural extension to check on appropriate planting time for your area. For where DH and I are, mid-October works well.

As suggested above, plant each clove pointy side up, about 2" deep and several inches apart (I give mine about 8").

The cloves will do nothing until spring -- and then will grow with minimal care (I don't really water my garlic much, except in severe heat).

Let the garlic grow until the central shoot develops one full curl. The stem makes a loop, which gets cut off so more energy goes to the bulb. When 2/3 of the leaves are brown, it's time to harvest-- July 4th is the traditional time around here.

Harvesting is tricky, as you can't just pull the bulbs out -- you have to dig around them a bit (gently!) so you can ease them out without damaging the skin.

When it comes time to preserve the bulbs, we clean up the roots a bit, gently taking as much dirt as possible off, and lay them down on a suspended screen to dry in the basement. (Yeah, the house did reek of garlic for a day or two.) After a week, we cut off the stem about five inches above the top of the bulb but leave the roots on. After another week or so of drying, we cut off the stem at perhaps slightly longer than what you find on a head of store-bought garlic. The roots get trimmed at this time as well. The outermost paper wrapper, which is usually relatively tattered at this point, gets removed too, leaving a clean head that should store well for many months. (You want to leave as much of the wrapper as possible as that's what protects the cloves during storage.) We put our finished heads in a three-tiered hanging basket.

We do set aside the largest bulbs, whose cloves will be planted this fall. Bigger starter cloves = bigger bulbs, at least in theory.

I know you'd like to maximize your harvest, but it may take a season or two.

Also, consider what you're going to do with your harvest. This year, for the first time, we have a pile for replanting, a bunch of dried bulbs, and nine pints of pickled garlic, done in a water bath canner. It's wonderful to have lots of garlic, but do think ahead about how you're going to store it.

Good luck.

P.S. If you can, get a copy of Growing Great Garlic, which is the bible of garlic cultivation.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:49 AM on August 19, 2007 [7 favorites]

Thorzdad: I don't think it matters- dried, fresh, or in-between. Possibly cloves that have been drying for 2-3 years may not work, but I would bet that some would. Garlic is so easy to grow that even I can do it.

MonkeyToes hits everything, although for hardnecks- I don't think softnecks do the loopy thing. Also- they don't do 'nothing until spring'- they set down a large root system so that when spring comes along they really take off. That's the difference between planting in fall and spring.
One other storage idea: I had a bunch of heads that I dug up too late to just put in the root cellar. (They were starting to split apart- still great garlic, just not 'keeping' garlic.) I peeled and pressed it into little baggies and froze them. This was fabulous in late spring when the fresh started to fade, and easy to use- just chop as big a piece off as you need.
posted by MtDewd at 9:30 AM on August 19, 2007

Garlic is super easy to grow, as everyone has said.

As for growing in pots, as long as the pot's big enough it should work. Just leave the pots in a safe, secure place outside- not too exposed; you want the bulbs (called "sets" when just a clove) to get cold but not freeze. Garlic, like most bulbs, needs the cool fall to store energy and grow roots, and the winter cold to go dormant or semi-dormant before shooting up in the spring.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2007

MtDewd: You're right -- we grow hardneck German Red. We bought the original bulbs several years ago, but every crop since then has been harvested from our garden.

And yes, of course they do work during the winter. I always think about it as "doing nothing" because nothing shows until one day that great and glorious first shoot shows up... I am the Doubting Thomas of the garden and am always amazed when things actually grow for me!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:21 PM on August 19, 2007

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