growing garlic & elephant garlic
WHEN TO PLANT:
Garlic survives bitterly cold winters underground or grows frost-hardy leaves where winters are mild to moderate. It grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring, and forms bulbs in summer. Where winters are milder, garlic is planted from October through January.
Softneck varieties can also be planted in spring.
Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter so the soil remains uncompacted through the long growing season. Gardeners with clay soils should add a lot of compost before planting; those with lighter soils need add only small amounts of organic matter, or grow and till in cover crops prior to planting.
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 1 inch deep, root side down. In spring, the garlic will have no trouble pushing through an inch of mulch. Minimum spacing on raised beds is 4 to 8 inches. To grow the largest bulbs space your plants 6 to 12 inches apart.
After garlic has overwintered 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 spring. Organic gardeners can side-dress a little chicken manure, seed meal or compost. Garlic also likes high-nitrogen foliar fertilizer, sprayed every ten days to two weeks. Once bulbing begins, fertilizing is useless, maybe even detrimental to getting the best quality bulbs. While the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil moist as you would for any other leafy green like lettuce or spinach.
Hardneck varieties put up a tall, woody flowering stalk that usually grows bulblets at the top. If the plant is allowed to put its energy into these seeds the bulb forming below the ground will end up smaller. We recommend you cut seed stalks off as soon as the flower spike has reached 8-9 inches tall. These are garlic scapes. They taste mild and sweet, like scalions, but with a hint of unmistakable garlicky flavor.
As the bulbs mature the leaves brown off. Garlic should be harvested when 3-4 green leaves remain on the stem. Each green leaf represents one layer of covering over the bulb in the ground. Dug too soon, the skins won’t have formed around each clove. Hardneck bulbs, if dug too late, may have begun to spread apart in the soil.
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. Some growers use a fan in the curing shed.
After curing, softneck garlic may be hung in bundles or braids. Either type of garlic may be stored in a mesh sack. If the garlic is to be kept in sacks, cut stalks off 1/2 inch above the bulb and gently clean with a soft bristle brush, taking care not to strip off the papery skin. Hang bulbs in mesh sacks with good air circulation on all sides or hang the bunches or braids of softnecks types. Perfect storage conditions are 45º-55º F. Storage below 40º F can make garlic sprout.
GROWING ELEPHANT GARLIC
Not a true garlic at all, but an enormous bulbing leek. It is grown like garlic with minor differences:
The enormous cloves should be planted deeper, 4-6 inches deep. The huge leafy plants may become 3 feet tall. We recommend spacing Elephant Garlic 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart.
Elephant Garlic is quite cold hardy. Occasionally a fall planted clove (usually a smaller one) fails to divide into segments and instead forms a single "round" like a small onion. Rounds can be replanted whole and will make a very large regular bulb the next year.
At harvest time you’ll notice corms protruding from the base of the bulb. These are small, nut-like cloves with sharp tips and thick, tough skins. Corms may be planted like regular cloves if first scored and then soaked overnight in water.
Plants grown from corms will be much smaller than those started from cloves and will not produce giant, segmented bulbs the first year, but will make only rounds. These rounds are delicious and can be cooked like huge pearl onions. Rounds may be replanted to grow a second time and the next year they’ll make a regular head containing 4-6 huge cloves. Elephant Garlic that is planted late in the spring will only produce rounds. Unlike true garlic, Elephant Garlic makes a large, showy flower on a stalk that grows 5 feet high. The seeds within it are rarely fertile. These flower stalks divert some of the plant’s energy and should be clipped off when they are 8-9 inches tall.