How We Plant Our Garlic

All of our garlic has been harvested, trimmed and is drying. Take a look at us on Instagram and Pinterest to see some of our harvest pictures. You might find some good ideas for your own crop!

Did you know that October is garlic planting month? Now that our garlic is drying and the fields are empty it’s time to prepare the beds for planting. We tend to plant later in the month however the most important point to remember about when to plant is that you should have your garlic cloves in the ground before freeze up. That’s frozen solid! You can plant your garlic in the spring however you will have a smaller bulb to harvest, not mention having to wait till the soil is warm and dry enough to plant in.

Here are our basic guidelines for Garlic Planting:

1. Prepare Your Soil

Garlic, in general, likes a rich organic, moist, well-drained soil. Whether your soil is light and sandy or a heavy clay the best amendment is organic matter,… on a regular basis. We add compost, using our own premium compost, 2 ways: tilled in or added just on top. Compost is the best way to add organic matter to your soil. Within 2 years you will note a remarkable difference in your soil texture and crops. The soil will be softer, hold more moisture and drain well. Your plants will grow larger and stronger, look more vibrant, produce good fruit sets and have less disease and pests. A stretch of warm days in August or September is a good time to prepare your soil. Planting a green manure is also a best practice to corporate in your preparation. Just make sure you can plant through it.
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2. Your Planting Layout

We plant a lot of garlic so we have beds planted 8 bulbs across. How you layout your garlic beds depends on the size of beds, the amount of garlic, etc. The basic rule you should follow in any design plan is that garlic should be spaced 6″ apart and about 2″ deep. We plant on a 6″ x 6″ grid, 8 bulbs wide. You will find all kinds of different garlic beds out there, just remember: “6” apart and 2″ deep”.

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3. Select and Prepare Your Seed

It might seem obvious however it needs to be said: Plant the cloves not the bulbs! When we are trimming our garlic bulbs we leave enough of the hard neck on the bulb to help us later when we prepare the garlic seed for planting. The hard neck helps us pull apart the bulb and separate the cloves. Each clove is a seed. Separate any damaged or diseased seed. Plant only your best seed. Look for well sized, plump cloves. Great seed really does grow great plants!

You can also plant your bulbils at this time. Bulbils are the small seeds the flower scape produces. Fall planting means less worry about your seed drying up or turning moldy over the winter.

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4. Planting

Now that your soil is ready, you have a planting layout and your cloves are all separated and selected it is time for planting. Each garlic clove has a piece of the bulb’s basal plate (a little flat spot) where the roots grow from and a pointed top where the sprout emerges. Plant the basal plate down and the point up.

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We use a planting tool, called a dibbler, designed to create planting holes for the cloves on a consistent 6″ x 6″ x 2″ deep grid. If your seed size varies a great deal you will want to make some adjustments. Small seed should not be planted as deep as large seed.

Bulbils need to be planted less than 1″ deep. Since they will not be mature enough to harvest in the first year they can be mass planted in the fall and transplanted the following harvest season.

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5. Cover with Topsoil

Gently cover the planted cloves with topsoil. Be careful not to disturb your seed, tilting the cloves in their planting holes. Tilted cloves will still come up however important plant energy will be spent ‘straightening’ itself out vs. growing a bigger bulb.

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6. Add Mulch

There’s a lot of different kinds of mulch out there. We have had good success with 2 kinds: shredded leaf mulch and wood chip mulch. All mulch should be 1-2″ deep. Leaf mulch should be shredded to avoid leaf matting and a possible moldy spring environment for the new shoots, A lawn mower makes a perfect shredder. Leaf mulch can be blown away so you should keep an eye on your beds through out the winter season to make sure the soil is not exposed. A mulched bed insulates the soil and the cloves, protecting the soil from extreme temperature and moisture variations. If your leaf mulch is in danger of getting blown away you might need to add a sprinkling of straw to hold it down or use a wood chip mulch. Straw also makes a good mulch. Most growers tend to use what is available. Choose the cleanest product, staying away from anything that may have any chemical product or residue on it.

7. Mulch Your Pathways and Bed Edges

We use straw to cover the pathways between our beds of garlic as well as all the edges of the beds. Mulching protects the bulbs from temperature extremes as well as holds essential moisture in the beds throughout the growing season. We rarely have to irrigate during the summer months primarily because our beds and pathways are covered. Mulching helps provide optimal growing conditions all year long. If you choose straw look for weed-free straw. This past year we used a wheat mulch. In the past we have used oat straw with oat shoots coming up as well.

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