Grower's Guide: Planting garlic

Garlic is grrrrrreat.
Seems everything we eat around Better Farm has garlic in it, save for a little cereal here and there and of course our morning coffee. So it makes no sense that for the last two years we've experimented with growing everything from amaranth to lima beans without once popping a single garlic clove into the soil.

But thanks to a couple generous gifts from friends, we were bestowed this year with oodles of garlic bulbs from which to sprout our very own, organic garlic. Our first batch of garlic was given to us in August, so we experimented by putting a few cloves in then. We put the majority of cloves in this Monday after the first frost had come and gone.

Here's how we did it—and how you can, too.

Prep Your Soil!
Garlic is extremely hardy and will grow in many different kinds of soil—though it prefers soil with lots of organic matter in it (big bonus for those of you employing mulch-gardening methods!) and good drainage. Garlic loves compost, compost manure, worm dirt, and even ground-up fish bones.

When to Plant
Now! In most climates, fall is the best time to plant. Roots should have time to develop, but tops shouldn't break through the surface before winter. The idea is to get some root growth and then the frost/beginning freeze triggers the bulb formation.

Preparing Your Cloves for Planting
Your garlic will come to you as a fully formed bulb. It's up to you to "crack" that bulb so you can plant individual cloves. Be sure to separate your garlic cloves as close to planting time as possible. Doing this at the last minute will prevent the root nodules from drying out and will allow the plant to root more quickly.

When you crack the bulb, each clove should break away cleanly. Root nodules grow from the edge of the "footprint" on the bottom of the clove. Be careful not to damage this footprint!

Set aside the very small cloves to eat soon, to make into pickles, to dry, or to plant tightly together for eating in the spring, like green onions. Each larger clove will produce a good sized bulb by the end of the growing season. The smallest cloves require just as much space, care and attention in the garden and produce significantly smaller bulbs.

Plant your garlic pointed-side up, about two inches below the soil's surface. Cloves should be spaced between four and eight inches apart. The closer you plant them, the smaller the bulbs will be. After you've planted, you may want to cover your garlic with about four inches of mulch to retain moisture, moderate the soil temperature, and inhibit weeds throughout the winter and early spring. By the time the weather warms up, the mulch will have settled to about two inches and will be perfect for spring and summer growth of your garlic plants.

Many thanks to Virginia Bartlett up here in the North Country and "Woodstock Ross" down in New Jersey for their generous gifts of garlic bulbs! Want more information, or tips for harvesting garlic? Boundary Garlic in Canada has a great how-to site we followed closely when doing our own.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.