Growing Great Garlic


bowl of garlic cloves

The bulbs that "made the grade" for planting. Photos by Keba M. Hitzeman

We are big fans of garlic on the farm. Until recently, we would purchase our winter supply from a local farmer friend in one of those pretty garlic braids. It was good hardneck garlic, full of flavor and a bit of heat. He grows many rows of the stuff, enough for his family, plus extra to sell at the virtual farmer’s market, and I got to thinking about how difficult it would be to grow it myself. The answer: not very difficult at all!

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

In the few years that I’ve been growing our own garlic, I’ve learned a lot. One of the first things was the differences between garlic types. There is hardneck garlic, which has the garlic cloves arranged around a central flower stalk, and softneck garlic, where the cloves are jumbled together, and there is no central stalk. I found that the large hardneck cloves peel easier than the smaller softneck cloves, which was the biggest selling point on planting my own hardneck garlic. Peeling 8 to 10 small cloves for one recipe definitely taxed my patience.

After settling on hardneck garlic, I started buying as much of their garlic as I could get my hands on. Large cloves will grow large bulbs, so I only saved the largest three cloves from each bulb, leaving plenty for our cooking and eating over the winter. I decided to plant this year’s crop in one of my raised beds. It has the best and softest soil and is protected from the chickens, which is very important since they will eat just about everything green they can find during the winter.

Planting: Timing and Tips

I think of garlic as a balance of sorts to the traditional garden. Most vegetables are planted in the spring, grow all summer, then are harvested in the fall. Fall-planted garlic is planted in late September or early October, grows until the frosts come, restarts growth in the spring, and is harvested in mid-summer. Soft, well-drained soil and good sun are needed for the best growth.

Planting is simple – poke a hole with your thumb, drop the garlic clove in flat side down (the flat side is the root end and the pointy side is the growing end), cover, and mulch with either straw or leaves. I like to use a good layer of straw but have had success with leaves as well. If you’ve planted softneck garlic, that’s all you need to do until next summer! If you’ve planted hardneck cloves, you will be treated to garlic scapes in the spring. These are the flower heads, and will need to be cut off before they bloom so the plant sends all its energy into growing a nice fat bulb and not a flower. You can use garlic scapes in cooking, and they have a mild taste.

1/25/2021 10:28:15 AM

Hello NebraskaDave and Keene Garlic! Thank you both for your contributions to the discussion! I've been told that for grocery store garlic, if it doesn't have roots, it's been imported, and if it does have roots, it's domestic. But I agree, buy from a local garlic grower for the best flavor and for a variety that will do well in your area. I've had cloves that I purchased from seed sellers not do well because of the difference in climate from where they were grown to my farm. Happy growing!!

Keene Garlic
1/15/2021 2:24:48 PM

I actually have a garlic farm and love to see these stories of others shows others how easy it is to grow garlic. We say that if you only grow 2 things it should be garlic. 1. The garlic you grow can't be purchased in a grocery store and most of that is imported and should not be eaten. 2. The varieties we can grow have a much better flavor than the imported stuff and is highly medicinal too. Get good seed from a garlic farm, so you know it has been grown in the US and you will have good success with it. At Keene Garlic, we always want our customers to start off growing garlic with the best seed stock, so they succeed growing an easy crop. And Dave in Nebraska, Garlic needs to cold!

1/13/2021 2:26:48 PM

Keba, great post on growing garlic. I do like garlic food dishes but have never tried to grow here in Nebraska. I don't think growing it would be a problem but really haven't talked with anyone that I know that's tried it. Our ground freezes to a depth of six to eight inches during the winter months. Would that be an issue for growing garlic? ***** Have a great garlic growing day. ***** Nebraska Dave

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