Garlic Growing Basics
.: Garlic does well in a variety of soils, but is especially suited to loose, rich soils high in organic matter. Be sure location has adequate drainage and water will not stand in heavy rains. Ideally, location should be somewhat protected from winter winds. Soil should be well fertilized with compost, manure or other organic amendments, such as fish meal. (A soil test is always useful to determine what's needed for your specific site.) In the north, planting time is late September to early November, depending on location, and later the farther south you go. The ideal planting window for the Dakotas and Minnesota is roughly mid-October, but we’ve had success planting as late as early November.
.: Separate the cloves. To guard against disease, mold and pests, soak the cloves in isopropyl alcohol for 5-10 minutes before planting. Either let them dry completely, or plant immediately. Plant them individually with the root plate down and the pointy end up about three inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Rows should be 6 to 12 inches apart.
.: Mulch with 6 inches of loose material such as hay or straw. Avoid material which could form a heavy mat and prevent emergence of garlic in the spring. Mulching protects the cloves from heaving out of the soil during freeze-thaw cycles, prevents winter-kill from cold temperatures and provides some weed suppression and moisture retention in the spring. Mulch should not be removed in spring unless there is serious concern of rot due to extreme wetness. Our garlic has shown hardiness in a wide variety of conditions.
.: One inch of water a week during the spring until two weeks before harvest is ideal; mulch will help retain soil moisture, but water requirements will depend on soil type. Again, our hardy varieties should withstand some water stress.
.: Foliar feeding or side-dressing with additional fertility (such as liquid fish and/or kelp) in the early spring can give garlic a boost, but only in the first couple of months after emergence. After that, additional nitrogen can inhibit bulb development.
.: Keep garlic weed-free.
.: For hardneck varieties, harvest the scape (flower stalk) 7-14 days after it appears. It can be snapped off by hand where it grows out of the plant. If removed early when tender, it can be ground into pesto, sautéed or cooked like asparagus, or eaten in salads or casseroles. Removing the scape will increase bulb size. Softneck varieties do not have a scape.
.: Different varieties of garlic will vary in length of time to maturity. In northeast South Dakota, harvest begins about the middle of July. Garlic should be dug (using a potato fork is easiest) on a dry day when about half the leaves have died back. Softneck varieties will be ready first. Avoid watering starting about two weeks before harvest. Leaving garlic in the ground too long will result in the bulb opening up, loss of wrapper skins and shortening of storage life.
.: Bunch garlic in groups of 10 or so and hang to cure out of the sun in a dry, well-ventilated place. Bulbs can be trimmed and used after 3-4 weeks of curing.
.: Store garlic in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place above 50 degrees F. Keep bulbs whole. Garlic should store into early spring.
***Always handle garlic with care! It bruises easily like an apple and damage can invite disease and mold.