For most of my life, I never really thought about how garlic grew or the people who grew garlic as a living. Despite garlic adding so much flavor to the dishes it is added to, I never seemed interested in growing my own when I got the chance. For some reason I was content with the limited varieties that are offered at the grocery store. It wasn’t until this year that I learned the difference in the types of garlic that is grown and all the difference in varieties.
Personally, it was a bit overwhelming initially because there were so many different options that sounded so good. I didn’t ever consider garlic to be spicy, but I can assure you that there are varieties that are meant for that. Each variety has its own advantages and disadvantages, which I will address a bit more below, but it is shocking at what the average consumer may be missing out on when just buying garlic at the supermarket.
I was shocked at how expensive it was to buy seed garlic from seed companies. Many varieties run for $10-20 for a few bulbs worth of garlic, which seems mighty high in comparison to some of the varieties that you could just buy at the store. I looked into if I could just grow the varieties that are typically sold at the store, and while you technically could, those varieties would not do well in my growing climate as most of the garlic sold is grown in warm climates like that of California.
There is honestly an ridiculous amount of information about growing garlic on YouTube and in gardening forums, but I will attempt to funnel what I have learned and the decisions I have made thus far to you, so that you may also learn a thing or two and consider growing your own garlic this fall or next fall depending on if sellers have any in stock in the coming weeks. Beyond the varieties of garlic I plan on growing, I plan to also talk about how I plan on going about planting them, when I plan on doing my planting, how I am prepping my garden beds, and things I have learned from other creators/resources online during my research. I have learned a lot these past few days researching, so I am certain that you will learn something from reading this blog!
1. What Varieties of Garlic am I Planting
After becoming overwhelmed with the copious amounts of varieties of garlic that exist, I first had to figure out which ones would be more ideal to grow in my growing conditions (zone 6). Based on the information that I could gather, generally speaking there are two types of garlic often categorized by varieties that have either a hard-neck or soft-neck. Hard-neck varieties are generally better suited for growing conditions that experience colder winters (zones 8 or lower), while soft-neck varieties are better for hotter conditions (zone 8 or above). There are a few exceptions to this rule, but based on what I learned, this is the average generalization. An advantage to soft-neck garlic over hard-neck is that they typically store longer. Grow what you can depending on your climate though.
The first variety I chose to grow was the hard-neck variety called Music. I chose this variety because it seemed to be a common favorite among the gardening community as well as some of the descriptions associated with its flavor and physical traits. This variety is known for having large cloves, relatively long shelf life, a moderate amount of spice, and is considered to have a “traditional” garlic flavor. I purchased ½ a pound of Music garlic from a seller on Etsy for $19. I have had good luck with buying plants off of Etsy in the past, though I always get nervous when trying out a new vendor despite choosing ones with numerous reviews.
The second variety I am growing is the Chesnok Red variety. This variety was offered at a local organic market and locally grown. It was ridiculously cheap per bulb in comparison to that of the online seed companies (about $1.50 per bulb). I would be a fool, not to pick up a few bulbs while they were in stock. This variety of garlic is said to be purple and easy to grow. It is said to have a rich, sweet flavor when sautéed. It is not supposed to have too much kick to it, if you were curious about the spiciness.
A Few Chesnok Red Garlic Bulbs
2. How am I Going to Plant The Garlic
I have not chosen a specific spot for these two garlic varieties in my garden, but I can assure you that they will probably be along the border of my in-ground garden beds or maybe my raised bed if I get the tree next to it cut back for more sun. Garlic loves sun, it will not do well in shady areas, so do take note if you are looking to grow giant bulbs of garlic. Beyond the sun requirement, I plan on planting these cloves about 8” apart and about 2-4 inches deep. I will do this in a triangular orientation as to increase the amount of garlic I can grow in a given space when compared to the traditional linear rows.
If you are inspired to grow your own garlic this fall, do make sure to plant your garlic with the flat side toward the bottom and the “spikey side” facing upwards as to promote correct growth orientation in the spring when the garlic comes alive. It is also a good idea to give some insulation to your garlic over the winter as to help insulate the bulbs, especially if your local climate has sporadic weather and may go from extreme lows to highs.
3. When am I Going to Plant
For the average person living in a temperate climate, you have a relatively large amount of time to plant your garlic. All you have to do is plant the garlic prior to the ground getting too hard from the first freeze. Do take warning that you should try to reduce the chance of the garlic going through periods of heating and cooling too soon as that could make the garlic shoot up and get damaged from cold fronts moving back in during the late fall and early winter months. This is important as it can weaken the garlic and make it too stressed to produce large bulbs later in the season.
Typically here in the Midwest, many tend to plant their garlic a week or two before the last frost, though many will tend to plant their cloves in the middle of October. This may be too early or too late depending on what climate you live in within the United States, so do take account of these variables when doing your own planting.
4. How I am Prepping my Garden Beds
I plan on prepping the garden beds/areas that I am planning on planting my garlic by doing a little bit of planning and reviewing my garden plans from this past growing season. I do this as I follow a general rule of thumb of not planting a similar type of plant/vegetable in the same area. I do this as if you frequently plant let’s say for example, tomatoes one season, then you plant eggplant or other nightshades, not only does it attract more pests and deplete your soil of nutrients needed for that family of plants to produce healthy fruits. It could also increase the likelihood of disease interfering with your harvest this season.
This is why a lot of farmers do crop rotation, though there are other reasons as to why they might rotate crops in certain areas.
After checking to make sure the space was used for an unrelated crop I then begin to add nutrition back to the soil since the plants from this past growing season have used a lot of the nutrition. There are many ways to do this, but my preferred way is to add a few inches of leaves and compost and cover for with a tarp or sticks to prevent wind from blowing it away. You could also add manure and worm castings, though they sometimes can be expensive. If you are composting correctly and replenishing your garden beds with fresh organic matter, the worms should come to you and add their castings to the soil.
Many cities offer free community compost, though quality may vary. Do look into it if you are unsure as it is beneficial to have access to such a resource. If you don’t have compost, just add a lot of leaves and cover with a tarp or landscaping fabric as they are very nutrient rich, but will blow away. Worms and other decomposers love leaves so as long as you’re adding something to your soil you will be better off than if you added nothing.
5. Advice I Have Learned From Outside Sources
At first glance I thought that planting garlic would be as easy as digging a hole, dropping a clove, and then waiting until spring. This may seem like the case to some, but for the price I paid for seed garlic, I would like to get the most bang for my buck. Many online gardening content creators talk about the use of worm castings, compost, and a 444 organic fertilizer. Many of these additions are added before planting in the fall and in the spring. I am unfamiliar with organic fertilizer as I try to use fish heads and organs from my fishing excursions and add them to my compost pile as all my fertilizer for the next season.
I do plan on learning more about organic fertilizer as I get more serious about growing plants indoors and potentially growing tropical plants that need to be brought in during the winter months. Also, many people emphasize the importance of using big cloves as seed garlic as those are the cloves that have the most stored energy and can produce big bulbs.
Garlic does also produce seeds other than cloves via a scape. Don’t let these develop as they take years to grow and reduce the energy allocated to the bulb. If you don’t believe me try looking up “garlic seeds for sale” on google and you will see that no one sells them. Typically you cut off the scape when they make a single curl; many people will use this for cooking.
Typically people harvest garlic in mid-late July after 3-4 of the leaves have died. Dig up a few heads of garlic prior to removing them all and make sure you are content with where the bulbs are at unless you think they could benefit from a little more time in the dirt.
Garlic is an interesting crop. Prior to my research this year I knew almost nothing about how they were grown and the different types of garlic that we could grow, I can only imagine how much flavor we are missing out on! I have described what I have learned from various online creators, seed sellers, and online forums and compiled it to this document. I have simplified the growing space selection, soil preparation, and the overall process of planting to the best of my ability. I have also added a few tips I learned while watching a garlic growing live-stream the other night on a whim.
I have given you practically all the general information I can to grow garlic with some success this year. As I have mentioned, this is the first year that I will be growing garlic so I will put what I learned to the test and get back to you on the results next season and maybe do a better comparison between different varieties. Thank you for reading; I hope you learned something new!