Be warned, some may argue that growing garlic is addicting! With countless varieties and numerous growing techniques, garlic lovers tend to find their favorites based on what works well for them. Here are some tips for growing gourmet garlic using organic practices. You can find other helpful articles on the Resources page.
BannJoe Farms garlic has tested negative for Garlic Bloat Nematode. See the test results here.
Garlic grows best in well-draining soil. If left in wet conditions for too long it can increase the risk for disease and cause the bulbs to rot. Garlic can be successfully grown in containers or raised beds, but for this reason it is important to allow for proper drainage. Because garlic is considered a "heavy feeder" when it comes to nitrogen use, it is best to conduct a soil test before planting to identify which nutrients, if any, need to be added to the growing area. It is common for growers to amend the soil prior to planting in the fall with nutrients and organic matter as well as in the spring when the plants are emerging. To help prevent disease, it is recommended to rotate your garlic crop on at least a three-year rotation.
Sterilizer and Fertilizer Soak
At BannJoe Farms, once the cloves are separated from the bulb the garlic is soaked in vodka for ten minutes to kill any pests or disease. You do not need to peel the wrapper off of the cloves, but it is also fine if the wrappers fall off on their own. Afterwards, the cloves are soaked in a fertilizer bath consisting of fish emulsion, seaweed extract, mycorrhizae, baking soda, and water. This allows the cloves to soak in helpful nutrients that will kickstart their development during the growing season. You can soak for as little as 30 minutes up to several days, however you may see roots start to develop after an extended period of time and should be handled gently so the roots do not break off during planting.
Hardneck garlic needs to go through a process called "vernalization" which is a period of exposure to cold weather that prompts the growing process in the spring when temperatures warm up. For this reason, it is recommended that hardneck garlic be planted around mid-October for most states that experience a cold winter. The roots will have some time to establish and you may even see some green leaves sprout above the ground which will not harm the plant's long-term growth. Space cloves at least six inches apart and two or three inches deep. It is important that the clove is planted "right side up" with the basal plate at the bottom and the pointed tip of the clove at the top. Cover with soil and several inches of mulch such as straw or chopped leaves which will help to insulate the cloves against heaving out of the soil as temperatures fluctuate.
As plants begin to emerge from the ground, it is best to fertilize with nitrogen once they are 4-6 inches tall. This can be applied in a dry form such as pelleted chicken manure or a wet application such as fish emulsion. The mulch can be left on the soil throughout the growing season to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Most plants will push through the mulch on their own while a few may need assistance. Garlic needs about one inch of water per week although it is important that the soil is not too saturated at any one time. Any applications of water besides mother nature should be stopped about two weeks prior to harvest.
Hardneck garlic produces a stem from the plant called a "scape". If left to grow, it will produce "bubils" which are tiny bulbs that can be planted and cultivated over many years to produce garlic bulbs. The scape should be removed if growers are wanting to produce larger bulbs as a result of their planting efforts. By removing the scape, the plant is able to use the energy it would have spent producing a scape to form a larger bulb instead. It is usually recommended to remove the scape once it has made a full curl, like a pig tail. Use your fingers to snap the scape at the point closest to the plant. Scapes have a garlicky flavor and can be enjoyed in many recipes. A scape can also be left on a garlic plant to indicate when harvest should occur as it will straighten out and point to the sky when ready.
Garlic is usually ready to harvest around mid-July, sometimes sooner or later, depending on several factors. One indicator that a plant is ready to be pulled out of the ground is the number of green leaves that remain on the plant. Each leaf correlates to a wrapper around the bulb and it is important that the bulb has enough wrappers to prolong storage. The most common recommendation is to harvest with 4-5 green leaves remaining on the plant. One of the best ways to check on the status of the bulb is to dig one out of the ground and cut it in half. The cloves should be defined and wedge-shaped and the wrappers should be tight with little give if squeezed gently. If possible, harvest when the soil is drier so that less dirt will stick to the bulb and roots. To clean a plant, peel off the lowest green leaf and you will have a perfectly clean bulb. The roots can be trimmed right away or left to dry out a bit before brushing the dirt off.
Curing and cleaning
Once the garlic bulbs are harvested, they need to be cured or dried down to prolong the storage life. There are several different methods for curing garlic and it often depends on the available space and resources that a grower has. Some common methods include tying whole plants in bundles of 10-12 and hanging or cutting tops down to 9-10 inches and placing on or in wire racks. No matter which method is used, the most important keys are to keep the humidity low and promote good air circulation with fans to reduce the chance of mold. Bright, natural sunlight will also need to be avoided to prevent the garlic from becoming sunburned. Once cured, the roots can be trimmed and the stems cut to a couple inches for picture perfect garlic. The curing process will take 2-3 weeks, after which you will have delicious gourmet garlic for many months to come!