When to Plant:
We recommend planting garlic in the fall. Garlic survives bitterly cold winters underground (or grows frost-hardy leaves when winters are mild to moderate), grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring, and bulbs in summer. Plant 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes, typically mid-October in this area. This gives the plant time to have good root development, but not enough time to make leaf growth. Soft-neck varieties can also be planted in the spring.
Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter, so the soil does not become compacted through the long growing season. Garlic prefers a more neutral soil pH, so if your soil is too acidic add lime to raise the pH.
How to Plant:
Break the bulb into individual cloves. Small cloves usually grow small bulbs, so plant only the larger ones. Use the small cloves in your kitchen. Plant cloves 2-3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Mulch heavily with straw for the winter, immediately after planting. In spring, the garlic will have no trouble pushing through the mulch.
After garlic has over-wintered it must be kept well weeded. Do not damage the shallow roots when cultivating. Garlic needs to be moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in the spring with a 5-10-5 or Espoma Garden-Tone. Once bulbing begins, fertilizing is useless, maybe even harmful to getting the best quality bulbs. While the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil as moist as you would for any other leafy green like lettuce or spinach.
Gauging the right time to harvest is very important. Dug too soon, the skins won’t have formed around each clove. Hard-neck bulbs, if dug too late, may have begun to spread apart in the soil. Each year the timing is a little different so rather than watch the calendar, observe the plants. As the bulbs mature the leaves brown off. When there are still 5-6 green leaves remaining on the plant, dig and examine a plant every few days to check the bulb. In very good garlic ground (very fluffy soil) the plants might be pulled by hand, but it is usually better to loosen the soil first with a spading fork. Immediately brush off the soil from around the roots, but do this gently. Drying is the essential part of curing the bulbs so do not wash them in water. Immediately move the newly dug garlic out of direct sunlight.
Some growers tie the plants by their leaves or stalks in loose bundles of 8-12 plants and hang them under cover. Others spread the plants in single layers on screens, drying racks, or slatted shelves. Garlic stores longer if it is cured with its stalk or leaves attached. Good air circulation is absolutely essential. The plants should cure from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on the humidity and amount of air circulation. After curing, you may trim the roots. If the garlic is to be kept in sacks, cut the stalks off 1/2-inch above the bulb and gently clean the bulbs with a soft bristle brush, taking care not to strip off the papery skin.
Hang bulbs in netted sacks, with good air circulation on all sides. You can also hang the dried bunches, or make and hang braids of the soft-neck types. Perfect storage conditions are 45-50 degrees F. Storage below 40 degrees F will actually make the garlic sprout.