Garlic grows best in cold weather. It should be planted in the fall, once your standard growing season is complete and your crops have been harvested. Yes, even if you have snowy weather in the winter, you can grow your own garlic. It all depends on which variety you choose.
Types of Garlic
Hardneck garlic likes cold weather. There are several different varieties that fall into this category, such as rocambole (Spanish Roja and Chesnok Red), porcelain (German White and Music), and purple stripe. All of them produce garlic with a spicy and sweet taste that appears in the form of larger bulbs. Softneck garlic, on the other hand, also produces large bulbs, but the taste is more mild. This type of garlic likes cool, but not cold weather. Some types to look for include Creole (Burgundy), and California bred (Susanville and Red Toch.) Lastly, there is elephant or buffalo garlic. These types end up growing to the size of a baseball, and have a very mild flavor. They don’t like cold weather either, and should be planted in the same climates as the softneck varities.
Planting and Caring For Garlic
Garlic is essentially the “set it and forget it” of crops. It needs to be planted shallowly (around 4 inches deep) in a sunny spot of your garden. You’ll need to prepare the soil down to 12 inches however, as the roots and bulbs need room to grow. After you’ve placed the garlic cloves in the ground (note that they should be at least 6 inches apart, unless you are planted elephant garlic, in which case they should be 12 inches away from each other), cover them with a 3 to 4 inch layer of shredded leaves or hay. This will keep the soil moist and regulated. The trick with garlic is not over water it. If you have a rainy fall or a snowy winter, that should be enough. However, if your seasons are particularly dry, you’ll need to water your plants once in a while.
Because garlic grows over the cooler months, it will be ready to harvest in early summer. Pay attention to the leaves on the plants here – when they begin to wither and look pale, it is time to harvest your garlic bulbs. Loosen the soil gently and remove each head of garlic from the ground. Then, find a place where they can dry for several weeks. It shouldn’t be any place where water or sunlight can get to them. While the garlic is drying, you can trim down any remaining root structures and brush dirt from the heads. However, do not remove the outer papery layer. This protects the garlic and keeps it from going bad. If you leave this on and store your garlic properly (in a cool, dry place), it will last for 4 to 6 months (hardneck types) or up to 8 months (softneck and elephant garlic.) It is recommended that you place your harvested garlic in mesh bags that are then hung from the rafters of your garage or basement.
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Pic by Photography-S!