Garlic: Why and How to Grow It
Updated: Nov 19
Growing my own food is something I want to do and will continue to try to do, but I haven’t had the best track record with it. The three things that I have had great luck with so far in my journey are herbs, lettuce and garlic. Garlic is by far the easiest thing I have tried to grow, and I get renewed hope in my gardening potential every time I see my beautiful, robust-looking garlic greens shoot up every spring.
Garlic has been considered a “health food” for centuries. This article gives a good account of how garlic has been utilized for health and healing historically, but this description of how Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) viewed the benefits of garlic sums things up nicely: “In his ‘Natural History,’ [he] offered a very long list of scenarios in which garlic would be beneficial. This list included everything from repelling serpents, scorpions and other beasts to curing Epilepsy. The list of what Pliny didn’t think Garlic could cure would be shorter.” For those who follow the Blood Type Diet, garlic is either highly beneficial or neutral for all blood types. We use garlic and organic dried garlic granules very liberally in our meals, and it is the main ingredient in our Garlic Herb Dressing. We also love to use the garlic scapes (from hard-neck varieties) to make pesto.
The first year I planted garlic, I ordered the “seeds” from an on-line catalog. I didn’t see any garlic seeds in the stores, so I thought I had to procure them in some type of special way. When I received my garlic “seeds” a couple of weeks later, I opened the package to discover that they were just cloves, exactly like the ones I routinely broke off from a head of garlic for cooking. From then on, I have either reserved the biggest cloves from each year’s harvest to plant in the fall, or I go to my local store and buy healthy-looking heads of organic garlic with the largest cloves. Each clove will grow into a whole head of garlic.
In addition to enjoying the ease of growing garlic, I also enjoy the low-maintenance nature of “lasagna gardening,” also known as “sheet composting.” This article describes this process in detail, but let me tell you, it is hard to mess up lasagna gardening. I like to lay down big pieces of cardboard on top of the area first, then saturate them with water. I then usually add layers of grass clippings alternating with “brown” materials like leaves. If it is not a rainy season, I water the whole thing every couple of days. This method attracts earthworms and reduces the number of weeds as well as makes pulling any weeds that get through a breeze. When I plant the garlic cloves, I just poke a hole in the layers to get to the dirt.
My steps for growing garlic:
1. Check this chart to find out when to plant your garlic. It will be sometime in the fall.
2. Choose large cloves of organic garlic that appear healthy; firm with no soft spots. Gently break the cloves off the bulb, leaving the papery skins on.
3. Choose an area with a good amount of sun for planting. If there has to be shade, try to maximize noon-time sun.
4. Plant the garlic cloves root-side down (pointy end facing up), about 8 inches apart and 2 inches under the soil. Green shoots will grow up before the freeze. Place straw or dry leaves around them.
5. The first hard freeze will appear to kill the green shoots. Place another layer of leaves or straw over them for the Winter.
6. In the Spring, the green shoots will emerge again. Pull the leaves or straw away from them a bit to allow them to grow. Keep the area around them weeded and watered. If the soil gets dry to at least 2 inches down, water it. (I have only watered my garlic a handful of times in the 5 years I've been growing it.) It is frequently recommended that garlic be fertilized. I haven’t done that, but this article explains the why and how.
7. Garlic is usually ready to be harvested in July or August. The main sign of readiness is browning/yellowing tops of leaves that bend over a bit. Harvest should happen before the leaves turn completely brown. Check one of the bulbs by gently digging down with fingers to see if you can see bulbs with several big cloves and a thick papery skin. If you do, it is probably time to harvest.
8. Harvest the bulbs by gently digging down on the side of the bulb, not so close as to hit and bruise it. Go deep enough to be able to lift the bulb out gently. Do not clean off the bulbs very much at this point; just brush off the big clumps of dirt.
9. Hang the bulbs in bunches of 6 or so in a dry shady area for about 2 weeks to cure. When they are ready the skin should be dry and papery, and the roots and crown should be dry. The cloves should crack off easily.
10. Remove the tops and roots and any parts of wrappers with a lot of soil on them. Store in a cool, around 40 degrees F, dark and dry place. They can last several months this way.
11. Enjoy your garlic as a food and as a medicine!