Growing and Using Garlic
by The Old Farmer’s Almanac staff
Plant garlic in the fall for a summer harvest that will add flavor to meals and remedy a few issues.
- Plan to plant cloves in the fall 6 to 8 weeks before the ground freezes. (In southern regions, February or March is a good time to plant.) The idea is to enable garlic to form roots but little to no top growth before the ground freezes.
- Use quality seed garlic and plant several different varieties in case one or two do not perform well. (If you are not using cloves from garlic you have grown, be sure to buy cloves from a reputable mail order seed company or a local nursery.)
- Separate the cloves no more than 48 hours before planting to keep them from drying out. Do not remove the papery husk.
- Make sure the soil is deeply cultivated and well drained, with a pH of 6.4 to 6.8.
- Add 2 to 3 inches of compost and well-rotted manure to the bed before planting.
- Plant individual cloves, pointy end up, 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
- Mulch 5 to 8 inches deep with seedless straw.
- Fertilize the plants every other week with a liquid fish emulsion, starting when the shoots emerge in early spring until the start of June.
- Provide at least an inch of water weekly, beginning in early summer.
- Cut off scapes—tall, curling seed stalks—to encourage plants to put all their energy into bulb formation. (It’s a good idea to leave one or two scapes to serve as indicators—when they start to flower, it is time to harvest.)
- Stop watering about four weeks prior to harvest when the outer wrappers on the garlic bulbs start to dry. (Too much water at that stage can stain the wrapper or cause mold.)
Tip: For northern region gardeners, grow hard-neck garlic.
- Harvest your garlic around the end of July or early August, when the lower third to half of the leaves have turned brown and have wilted but the upper leaves are still green.
- Pick a few bulbs to check the size and wrapper quality; you don’t want the wrapper to disintegrate. (If you dig too early, the bulb will be immature.)
- Lift the bulbs from the soil with a spade or garden fork.
- Dry the bulbs until the wrappers are papery, the roots are dry, and the root crown is hard. The cloves should pull apart easily.
- Remove any dirt and trim off any roots or leaves. (Keep the wrappers on.)
- Store the bulbs in one of two ways: either individually with the tops removed or dried with tops braided together for hanging.
- Hang braided bunches in a cool, well ventilated, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks to cure. Keep bushels of individual bulbs in similar conditions. (A barn or basement is an ideal spot.)
Tip: Save your biggest cloves to replant next year.
Best Ways to Separate and Peel Garlic
- Shave the tops off the bulb head then bang down on the top of the head with your fist; the cloves should spring free.
- Drop bulbs into a pot of boiling water and boil for 30 seconds. Drain and drop them into cold water. The skins should slip off easily.
How to Use Scapes
Chop them and add to salad, stir fry, soup, scrambled eggs, or any dish you want to have a bit of garlic flavor. Chopped in a food processor with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese, they make a wonderful pesto. They can be mixed into a vinaigrette, diced into fried rice, grilled, chopped into any dip or sauce, pickled, or blended with butter to be used as a cooking fat.
10 Unusual Uses for Garlic
- Bug repellent
- Acne remedy/facial cleanser
- Natural adhesive
- Cure for ear infections
- Splinter removal
- Fish bait
- Psoriasis relief
- Hair loss aid
- Parasite expellant
- Cold cure
Roasted Garlic Purée
- 1–6 cups garlic cloves, peeled
- olive oil (enough to cover the cloves)
- kosher salt
- sprig or two of rosemary
- In a heavy oven-safe saucepan, place peeled garlic cloves. Cover with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt, and add a sprig of rosemary.
- Cover and roast in a 375°F oven until soft, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge, until ready to use. (Be sure to cover the garlic with oil.)
“Shallots are for babies; onions are for men; garlic is for heroes.” – Unknown