Growing garlic is really easy and fall is the right time to get garlic planted in your garden. In this post I’m going to show you how to grow garlic both organically and biodynamically so you can have a great harvest of homegrown garlic next year.
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Garlic is used in cuisine from around the world from salads and dips to soups and stews and everything else in between! Cooking with garlic you have grown yourself can take your meals to whole new levels with the varieties of seed garlic available to the home grower.
With the Celtic festival of Samhain or Halloween just around the corner now is the time of year in the northern hemisphere when seed suppliers have seed garlic available to buy for you to sow.
Garlic has a past steeped in magic and superstition as well as being a great addition to your food dishes!
Photo Credit: freestocks.org
There are lots of varieties for you to grow from the mild Elephant Garlic to the spicy Georgian Fire.
This year, I’m planting 3 varieties of garlic; one red-purple skinned variety saved from a friend who grew some in Idaho, Bogatyr; a hot, spicy hardneck variety and Music a large clove producer with aromatic flavors.
Photo Credit: LoboStudio Hamburg
I love a bit of history behind the plants I grow and garlic is no exception! The most common Western folklore is using garlic to ward off vampires as written in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel to protect Lucy from the Count. In the novel, garlic was placed as a braid around her neck and it was rubbed around all entrances and windows to her room.
Photo Credit: Todd Cravens
Garlic has an interesting history behind it from the ancient Egyptians using it to buy slaves to the Russian army in World War 1 using garlic to treat wounds.
Garlic was fed to Egyptian slaves to ensure good health and has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years!
An ancient Greek custom using garlic to protect travelers from evil spirits involved placing garlic at a crossroads to confuse the demons and cause them to lose their way. Another Greek custom was carried out by midwives who would place a necklace of garlic around the baby’s neck.
In medieval times, illness was often considered a manifestation of evil spirits or other supernatural forces. Garlic was often the remedy of choice and it was often successful in healing. Garlic evolved in tradition to protect against the evil eye and was considered an ideal defence device to battle the dark forces and spirits.
Photo Credit: Mar Newhall
For centuries garlic was believed to ward off the dark forces of demons and evil spirits around the world, indeed up to the 1700s, European peasants hung braids of garlic over and around doorways to protect their homes from evil.
The Romans ate garlic before battle believing it to give them strength and courage.
Garlic is reputed to cure worms, prevent mosquito bites and is an aphrodisiac however, none of these traditional uses were found to be significant in clinical trials.
Selecting Garlic To Grow
Photo Credit: Anton Darius | Sollers
Hardneck or Softneck
Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow. It is split into 2 types; hardneck and softneck garlic varieties.
Hardneck garlic is named as such due to the stiff stalks, or neck which forms on the plant whilst the softneck garlic has no stiff stalk.
Hardneck garlic grows best in northern, cooler climates whilst softneck varieties grow better in warmer, southern climates.
Hardneck varieties tends to have fewer cloves than softneck varieties, with the cloves radiating from around a central stalk and rather uniform in size.
Hardback garlic produces edible scales in summer which have a mild garlic flavor to them.
Hardneck garlic can be categorized further into 3 distinct varieties; Rocambole, Purple Stripe and Porcelain.
Rocambole is the most common hardneck type is sometimes used synonymously with hardneck. Rocambole garlic peels easily because they have thin, parchment-like skins. The clove skins are very loose on Rocambole garlic varieties or cultivars. Often the skin does not even completely enclose the cloves which can lead to some discoloration on the cloves which is normal.
Due to their thin skins, they do not store for long periods.
Rocambole garlic is the type with distinctive curling, topset edible scapes or flower stalks that give them the nickname serpent garlic.
Rocambole garlic have a true garlic flavor and are great for many dishes.
Photo Credit: Matthew Pilachowski
Purple Striped Garlic
Purple Striped garlic is named because of the purple striping on the skins. All purple striped garlic varieties exhibit this.
Some Purple Striped garlic are very mild tasting such as Red Chesnok whilst others are hot or pungent like Bogatyr, Metechi and Purple Glazer.
These garlic varieties mature over a range of times and mellow during storage.
Popular varieties include Chesnok, Siberian, Starbright, Bogatyr, Metechi and Purple Glazer.
Porcelain garlic has a thick outer skin which makes this variety a great choice for storage. They are a larger bulb with a few large cloves. Like the Purple Stripe, the Porcelain garlic ranges in flavor from mild to hot.
Popular varieties include Romanian Red, Georgian Crystal, Music, Georgian Fire and German White.
Photo Credit: FOODISM360
Softneck garlic is well adapted to warmer climates. Softneck garlic is usually the type found in the grocery store because it stores well.
The two types of softneck garlic; Artichoke and Silverskins.
Artichoke garlic is probably the most commonly grown commercial garlic. It tends to be very difficult to peel and both produces and stores well. Common Artichoke varieties include California Early White, California Late White, Red Toch and Inchelium Red.
Silverskin garlic have silvery, white skins and are made up of many small cloves. Silverskin garlic have a sturdy neck and are easily braided.
The flavor of Silverskin is usually stronger than that of Artichoke varieties.
Some popular varieties include Idaho Silver, Nootka Rose, St Helens and Mexican Red.
Elephant Garlic is large size and has a very mild flavor. Elephant garlic is actually a type of bulb forming leek.
How To Grow Garlic Organically
Photo Credit:Gaelle Marcel
Garlic does well in a good, rich soil. Work in well rotted manure or compost the previous fall for a fall planting or plant the garlic in an area which was fertilized for a previous crop. Like carrots, garlic does not do well on freshly manured ground but you can work in some good compost.
Choose a growing area which is in full sun during spring and summer.
Plant the individual cloves by splitting them from the bulb. Plant the largest cloves to get the largest bulbs.
Plant each garlic clove 2-3 inches below the soil surface with the pointed end up and about 4 inches apart from other garlic cloves planted.
Mulch the garlic bed with straw, leaves or alfalfa hay to keep the area weed free with minimal effort.
Garlic doesn’t like heavy or water logged soil, the roots are shallow and a loose, fertile 4-6 inches of soil will help your garlic crop grow well. See my previous post about soil amendments to help improve your garden soil.
If you have heavy soil, try planting in spring, if it is a particularly wet spring, the cloves are at risk of rotting. Try starting your garlic under cover in a cold frame or greenhouse to plant out later.
Garlic is a great low maintenance crop and it is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and dry out around mid to late summer.
Lift the bulbs carefully with a fork and leave to dry in a sunny spot for a 3 to 6 weeks. The drying will help cure the skins for storage.
Gently brush any soil off the bulbs and trim the roots once the skins are papery. Braid the leaves or thread the neck through wire or string and hang in a cool, frost free area.
How To Grow Garlic Biodynamically
Photo Credit: fireskystudios.com
Prepare the ground prior to planting by amending the soil with well rotted, compost (biodynamic compost is preferred).
Prepare the ground further by spraying with valerian preparation BD507 a week or so before planting on a root day. I have also used valerian tea with good results.
I get my biodynamic preparations from the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics.
Garlic is a root plant in the biodynamic method and should be planted on root days or when the moon is in earth signs like Taurus (bull), Virgo (virgin) and Capricorn (goat). You can find out what root days are available by using the North America biodynamic planting calendar or check out Rhythm of Nature for an online resource. I like the book calendar as they contain helpful hints and tips and in previous years, a wall chart.
Sow garlic cloves the same way as the organic method but sow them during the planting period or descending moon when the plant’s forces are accumulating below ground as the earth “breathes in”. This is not the same as waxing or waning moons. A biodynamic calendar should detail planting periods.
Spray the ground and cloves with the horn manure preparation BD500 at the time of planting to promote healthy root growth.
Mulch the bed to retain moisture and reduce the weed growth. Keep the area weed free as it is growing by weeding on root days.
Spray the garlic with the horn silica preparation BD501 whilst they are growing on root days to keep plants healthy. Spray BD501 in the morning after sunrise.
Harvest garlic on a root day.
If you want to read more about biodynamic growing then I really recommend Maria Thun The Biodynamic Year as an easy to read introduction with 100 tips for gardeners and homesteaders.
What’s your favorite way to grow garlic? Let me know in the comments!
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