Planting and growing garlic is very easy but it takes time and patience. It is so easy there is no need to go to the garden center to get special garlic to plant. Planting the cloves from a common head of garlic from the grocery store is adequate in most cases. Harvesting is a little more complicated, however, as the heads need to be cured or dried in order to store for a long period of time.
Garlic can be grown in an existing vegetable or flower garden. Garlic keeps aphids away from rose plants, so growing garlic amongst roses is beneficial. Garlic does not grow well in pots because the bulb grows at the root and a pot does not provide enough room. Be sure your garden is well drained with no pooling of water. Garlic needs to be in the sun six to eight hours per day.
Garlic is not grown from seed. Instead, the clove is planted. One head or bulb of garlic can contain up to 20 individual cloves. Once the papery outer part of the bulb is removed, you can separate the cloves. At one end there is a point and at the other end a somewhat flattened area. The top of the clove is the pointed side. This is area from which the leaves will grow; the flat part is where the roots will grow.
Dig a trench about 2 inches deep. Plant the unpeeled cloves with the pointed part up and flat end in at the bottom of the trench. Plant the cloves about 4 inches apart. If planting in rows, the rows need to be about 18 inches apart to give enough air circulation between plants. Cover with garden soil and water daily if there is no rain for about two weeks or until the roots start to grow.
When to plant garlic is highly contested among gardeners. There are some who recommend planting in the spring and other say to plant in the fall and let the cloves go through a winter to pop up in the spring. An old wives tale says that garlic will grow best when planted on the shortest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day is December 21, and for some the ground may be too hard to dig and plant anything at that time. Garlic takes about eight months to mature if planted in the spring. Therefore, cloves planted in March 15 will be ready to harvest around the middle of November. That is fine if it is planted in a moderate climate where the ground does not freeze until January or February. If planted in October or November in cold climates, the harvest usually occurs in August and the bulbs are much bigger. In warmer climates cloves can be planted in January or February. The roots will grow before the ground freezes even though no leaves will show above the ground.
Keep the garlic plants free of weeds by pulling. Be careful when you pull so the bulbs do not dislodge from the ground. Place a layer of straw over the planting area to retain moisture and protect the growing garlic from the cold during the winter. Supplement with water during the growing season. Garlic needs about 1 inch of water per week after the roots have grown and the top leaves start to pop up. Many times a flower stalk will come from the leaves. Be sure to cut these back, as they will sap the energy of the plant and take it from the roots where you want the energy to go.
The leaves will start to turn brown and die back toward the end of July or beginning of August. This is a sign that it is nearly time to harvest garlic. If the bulbs are harvested too early, the heads will be tiny, and if they go too long, they will split underground and be useless. Plant more garlic than you need and when the leaves start to turn yellowish brown, pull one. Check the size of the bulb and if it is small and has more than three layers of papery substance around the cloves, wait a week and pull another. Wait to harvest the whole lot until the bulbs are the right size and there are, at the most, three layers of peel on the bulb. The papery layers decrease the longer the bulb is in the ground.
Curing and Storing
Garlic will rot quickly if the bulbs are not cured or dried properly. Place the whole bulb with leaves attached on newspaper spread out in a shady area. Make sure it is a dry day when this is done. Pull the garlic in the morning and leave it on the newspaper until evening before the dew starts to come in. Garlic left in full sun after pulling will get sunburned and will not save well. Never wash the bulbs. Take them indoors in a barn or garage and hang them where they can air dry for at least a week. When the outer part of the bulb feels papery, it can be taken down and any dirt left on the bulb can be brushed off carefully. Wash the garlic off when you go to use it.
There are several ways to store garlic. The cloves can be separated, peeled and chopped and placed in olive oil. Jars of garlic stored this way will keep in the refrigerator about three to four months. The leaves can remain attached to the bulbs and braided to create a garlic braid. Properly cured garlic can stay fresh up to eight months if kept in a dark yet dry and cool place.