Here in Pennsylvania, our season is reaching its crescendo when most gardeners have more tomatoes and peppers then they know what to do with. This abundance leads many gardeners down the path of preservation; whether that be canning, freezing or dehydrating in order to preserve summers flavors and bounty. In my family we have our go to recipes for canned salsa and frozen tomato sauce. Both of these recipes require garlic and onions along with tomatoes and other ingredients.Although it may seem odd, if you would like to use your own homegrown garlic in your recipes, you need to begin planning now! The best time of year to plant garlic is in the fall. Garlic can be grouped into two different categories, hardneck and softneck. Here are a few attributes of each:
- Does best in colder climates where they receive a chilling period.
- Develops a long stem / flower bud from the center of the bulb called a scape.
- Typically peels easier.
- Typically more flavorful than "regular" softneck varieties.
- Contain fewer cloves per head but the heads tend to be larger overall.
- Does not store well, 6 months maximum.
- Preform best in warmer climates.
- When cured properly, it can be stored in ideal conditions for up to 12 months.
- Heads contain lots of cloves.
- Does not develop a flower stalk / scape making them ideal to braid.
When to Plant:
- Fall is considered the best time of the year to plant garlic. Plant bulbs 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes solid. (Early to Mid October for zone 6)
- Early Spring plantings have shown good results, softneck varieties only.
- full sun area (6 - 8 hours per day).
- rich, fluffy and well drained soil.
- soil pH should be in the 6.2 - 6.8 range.
- carefully break bulbs apart into individual cloves (Note: do not damage the bottom end of the cloves.)
- discard any soft or shriveled cloves.
- rows should be 2" deep and 12 - 18" apart.
- cloves should be planted 4 - 6" apart (pointy end up / basal plate (root) down.)
- cover cloves with 2" of soil.
- mulch garlic beds with a 6" layer of a good fluffy mulch / examples: oats, straw, shredded leaves, hay, alfalfa, etc.
- keeps cloves from being heaved out of the ground by frost.
- conserves moisture in Spring and prevents weed growth.
- keep watered (garlic needs an inch of water per week during Spring and Summer.)
- Fertilize as needed. The amount of fertilizer needed depends on what is available in the soil. To produce large heads use a fertilizer high in Nitrogen. To increase the flavor intensity use a fertilizer high in sulfur.
- usually harvested mid to late July, when bottom leaves start yellowing.
- stop watering 1 week before you harvest so the soil around the bulb drys out.
- loosen soil around each bulb and carefully pull garlic out of ground (keep whole plant in tact.)
- rub dirt out of the roots and immediately take garlic to a cool, shady spot.
- form bundles of ten plants each.
- tie each bundle with twine about 6" above the bulbs.
- hang bundles, bulbs down, in a dry, shady and well ventilated area to cure
- after hanging 3 - 4 weeks, remove dirty outer skin and trim roots to about a ½" length.
- re-hang bundles or cut top off about 1" above garlic bulbs and store in a mesh bag until ready to use.