A garlic crop is one of the summer garden's savory harvests. After the summer harvest, take a few cloves to the kitchen and store the rest for fall and winter cooking. Garlic is easy to grow in the backyard; it takes some space and attention, but the rewards are delicious.
Preparing the Soil
Carefully clear the garden bed of all weeds and roots before you plant your garlic crop. Turn over and loosen the soil using a garden fork. While you are turning over the bed, mix in rich well-rotted compost and manure to improve the nutrient levels and increase nitrogen in the soil. Garlic likes well draining loamy soil; if your soil is wet, heavy and clay like, mix in peat moss when you are adding the compost and manure.
Break up the heads of garlic no more then 24 hours before planting. Break off each clove so that it comes cleanly away from the head. There will be a "footprint" where the clove attached to the head; it is important that this is not broken or damaged. Plant each clove so that the "foot" that came off the clove is pointed downward with the tip pointing up. Plant the cloves in 3-inch deep holes in rows about 8 inches apart; if you plant closer together you will get more, smaller heads of garlic. The best time to plant garlic is in the early spring as soon as the soil is workable.
Mulching and Weeding
Mulching is a good way to keep the soil moist, regulate the soil temperature and cut down on the growth of weeds. Spread a 4-inch thick layer of chopped leaves or alfalfa onto your garlic bed after planting. Mulching will deter some of the weeds; keep an eye on the bed and pull out weeds as they emerge. Garlic does compete well with other plants.
Water your garlic crop after planting; the soil should be evenly damp to a depth of at least 4 inches. After the initial watering, soak the soil once a week to a depth of at least 1 inch. Adjust watering to account for periods of heavy rain or drought. Stop watering in early summer to bring the flavor up and finish off the development of the cloves. For an August harvest, discontinue watering late in June.
August is the harvest month for most garlic crops, but as early as July you can begin digging up a head here and there to check its development. Look for a slight browning of the lower leaves as this indicates that the crop is ready for harvest. To harvest, drive a garden fork into the soil near each plant, lift back on the handle to bring the garlic to the surface. Be careful not to dig too close to the head and cause damage. Damaged garlic will not store well so take any cloves that are damaged to the kitchen immediately.