April 19th is National Garlic Day! The good news is that garlic certainly deserves that kind of recognition. The bad news is that National Garlic Day seems to be celebrating the harvest. Yes, we’ve missed out on planting season. Garlic is grown from cloves, and is generally planted in the Fall for harvest the following summer. (Each clove can produce up to twenty scapes.) Traditionally, the winter Solstice (December 21) is a day dedicated to planting garlic.. That’s a Pagan tradition, but it’s one that many farmers still swear by today. [photo via pixabay.com]
There are dozens of different varieties of garlic but only two main groups: soft necks and hard necks. The neck refers to the stem of the garlic plant. Soft necks are dry and can be braided, hard necks cannot be braided when dried because the stem becomes rigid. The type of garlic you choose is your own preference, but it is best to research the various types to determine which will grow best in your area.
Garlic grows well in soil that is between 5.0 and 8.0 pH level and will grow best with slightly acidic soil, 6.2 through 6.8 pH level. It should be planted in loose soil about eight inches deep with a generous eight inch space between plants. The cloves should be inserted root side down (pointy side up) and buried about two inches deep.
Cover the cloves with loose dirt. It is best to cover with mulch and/or compost. Add another layer of mulch after the first frost to keep the plants from freezing in the cold. Once the danger of frost has passed in the spring, the mulch can be removed from over top of the plants to let the sun warm the soil. Once new growth begins, you can add a fresh layer of mulch if you desire. It is not necessary to overwater garlic, only water it if the soil is dry more than two inches down. Be sure to water them gently; do not pour water into the crowns of the plants.
And then it’s time to harvest–which is what a lot of people are doing now to celebrate National Garlic Day. You can cut garlic scapes when they are four to six inches long. Some believe that cutting the scrapes makes the bulbs grow larger; other think it doesn’t make a difference. Either way, garlic scapes are tasty and look pretty when placed in a vase. Garlic is ready to harvest when about ¾ of the tops are yellow and brown. Garlic needs to be harvested properly. Gently dig them out on an overcast day (rather than in bright sun). Lay them flat on a carrier.
Garlic needs to dry laid in a single layer somewhere out of the sun, in a warm – but not hot – place. You can gently brush the dirt off the garlic, but do not wash it. If you want to braid the stems, do it before they get too hard and brittle. Dried garlic may be a bit dirty, but over washing the garlic will allow in moisture and encourage mold. Fresh garlic should be stored in a cool, place, not exceeding 75°F with moderate humidity. Fresh garlic should never be stored in the refrigerator.