For those of you who love garlic, autumn is the best time in the Bluegrass Region to plant garlic bulbs in your home garden. Planting in the fall allows the roots time to develop before the tops break the ground in winter.
Garlic will grow under a wide variety of soil conditions, but it prefers free draining loam with lots of organic matter. Building up your soil with green manures or compost as part of your normal soil building is ideal.
Shortly before planting break the bulbs apart into cloves. This is called ‘cracking’. When you crack the bulb each clove should break away cleanly.
Set aside the very small cloves to eat soon, to make into pickles, to dry, or to plant tightly together for eating in the spring, like green onions. Each larger clove will produce a good sized bulb by the end of the growing season.
You can plant garlic in single or double rows or use square foot gardening (gardening in small one-foot plots). The best spacing is about eight inch between rows and between plants. Tighter spacing in the beds will produce a larger number of bulbs, but they will be smaller. It is important to plant hard neck garlic with the top (pointed end) of the clove up, at least two inches below the surface. When you have planted the garlic, cover it with a layer of mulch.
Garlic requires fairly even soil moisture during its early growth, but no additional moisture during the last few weeks. Mulch is one way of maintaining an even moisture regime. Not enough moisture means that garlic does not develop a full sized bulb. Over watering results in garlic with poor keeping qualities – poor wrappers, burst skins and mold.
In the Bluegrass, garlic is ready to harvest in the early spring. The dying back of the leaves is only an approximate indicator. Inspect a few bulbs in the ground by carefully scraping away the dirt. Pull the garlic from the ground when the bulb has reached a good size and before the wrappers begin to deteriorate or the bulbs begin to split open. If a bulb is not well-wrapped, and the skins on the cloves are not intact, the garlic will not keep well.
To store garlic you can braid the tops together and hang in a cool, dry area, or place inside of open weave or mesh bags.