Commercial Garlic Grower Tip Indicates a section especially pertinent to farmers
Garlic Planting Hero
Anyone can grow garlic
How to Grow Garlic

Whether you're planting garlic in the back yard garden, or growing garlic as a cash crop, Rasa Creek Farm would like to be your source for help in achieving success.
 
Table of Contents
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Planning your Garlic Farm©


Consider using our Planning Your Garlic Farm© - Beta v1.1 spreadsheet tool. It's free and can handle up to a 5 year plan, helping you to size up your operation in a way that gives you time to learn the ropes and do things properly. Be sure to also watch the YouTube tutorial.

Selecting Garlic "Seed" Stock


Note on True Garlic Seed

As you probably know by now, the term "seed garlic" is a little misleading. Garlic does not produce true seed (with rare exception; visit our page on True Garlic Seed to learn more about this) and so is propagated vegetatively, essentially cloning itself over and over again. Bulbils are not seeds but rather mini clove-like growths that happen to grow within the flower stalk of the garlic plant. This means that growers and gardeners are not able to create hybrid garlics using traditional cross breeding methods which rely on mixing genetic material from one plant with that of another in order to generate a new and unusual cultivar.
 
So, most of us are left with two methods for growing garlic.

Porcelain Seed Garlic

Bulbs

Each clove from a bulb of garlic is actually an embryonic leaf waiting to sprout and reproduce an exact clone of itself. So, if you want to grow delicious garlic, then you have to plant delicious garlic. It feels a little counter-intuitive, at first, to be pushing perfectly good food into the ground.

Select from Your Own

If you're planting cloves from bulbs that you grew yourself, then you'll want to select bulbs that are large, but not necessarily the largest. Size does matter, but it isn't the only factor in determining the resultant vigor and size of your garlic crop. Choose bulbs that are healthy and a little bigger than average, then plant the largest cloves from those bulbs. The smallest cloves will produce bulbs, but they will be smaller than average.

"Outsourced" Seed Garlic

When obtaining your seed garlic from an outside source (be it a friend, the local farmer's market, or a supplier such as ourselves) you'll want it to meet several important criteria:
  • Clean and disease free: you can inspect the bulb for obvious outward signs of mold (black or green patches, micro-fuzz) or blemishes that may indicate the presence of a disease. When buying from a supplier such as Rasa Creek Farm, make sure there is a money back guarantee that protects you from getting stuck with moldy or diseased seed stock.
  • Cooking Characteristics: Flavor, pungency and average clove size are characteristics pertinent to your garlic's use in the kitchen. Be sure you're planting a cultivar that meets your needs and preferences. Porcelains, for instance, have enormous cloves, so if you're cooking for two and prefer just a little garlic in a given meal, you may not want to plant an entire garden of Porcelain. Consider an Artichoke, or a Rocambole instead. On the other hand, if you do like to pile it on... Review our catalog and cultivar descriptions to find a match for your needs.
  • Growing Characteristics: Where do you live? What type of soil do you have? How much rain and sun is there? Choose a garlic that stands a good chance in your specific environment. Rocamboles don't perform well in poor draining soil, Creoles don't do well where it's too cold. Consider a Marbled Purple Stripe to begin with something reliable in a wide range of climates and then branch out from there. Review our Garlic Groups and Cultivars page to learn the growing characteristics of each.

Early, Mid or Late Maturation

If you diversify your crop between several different cultivars (which is often a wise thing to do) consider getting cultivars that mature at different points in the season so as to spread out your harvest time. That way you won't be pressured to get your entire crop out to the ground in the sometimes short window you have before the bulbs begin to spoil in the ground. Study our cultivar description pages to see the average maturation date for a given cultivar.

German Garlic Bulbils

Bulbils

Growing from bulbils can be fun and profitable (if you're not familiar with what bulbils are, read our Bulbils page to get an idea). Use the same criteria described above (when selecting which bulb to plant) to choose which cultivar will best suit your culinary and gardening needs. Here's a quick breakdown of what you can generally expect from umbels/bulbils in a given family of garlics.
  • Porcelain: 100-200 bulbils the size of a grain of rice; 3-5 years to maturity
  • Rocambole: 10-25 large pea or marble sized bulbils: 2 years to maturity
  • Marbled Purple Stripe: 40-60 medium sized bulbils; 2-3 years to maturity
  • Purple Stripe: 80-140 small bulbils; 3-5 years to maturity
  • Creole: 70-100 small bulbils; 3-4 years to maturity
  • Turban: 40-60 medium bulbils; 2-4 years to maturity
Paul Pospisil wrote an extremely useful article on growing from bulbil that was published in the Winter 2010 issue of Canadian Organic Grower. We've included a link HERE for your convenience.

Commercial Garlic Grower Tip There are several reasons to plant bulbils, either instead of or in addition to planting mature cloves. Unless you're in a big hurry and need to bring a full crop to market next year, try building your stock using the bulbil method. Benefits to farmers include:
  • exponential growth of seed stock (see chart below)
  • purging of all soil born disease (nematodes, fungus, etc)
  • gradual acclimation of cultivar to your growing conditions
Rapidly increase planting stock

Compare bulb vs bulbil propagation for the Porcelain cultivar Yugoslavian.
  • Cloves per Yugoslavian bulb = 4
  • Bulbils per umbel = 200
   1st Year  2nd Year  3rd Year
 Bulb
(4 cloves)

(bulbs)
16
(bulbs)
64 
(bulbs)
 Bulbils 200 
(rounds)
200
(small cloved bulbs)
800
(larger cloved bulbs)

A $3.50 bulb will yield 64 bulbs in three years, worth approximately $100 at retail prices ($10 per pound). 

A $4.00 umbel of bulbils will yield about 800 bulbs in three years, worth approximately $1,000 at retail prices. (We're even rounding down by 25% here to account for smaller than usual bulb size in the third year.)

Preparing the Soil


It goes without saying that planting into soil that has the right balance of nutrients for garlic, and the right tilth (texture and sand/silt/clay ratio) is the first step in achieving large, good looking and great tasting bulbs. However, garlic is a very forgiving plant so even if your soil is marginal it's worth giving it a try. In a corner of one of our garlic fields we have a patch of gravel that literally contains more rock than soil. We planted garlic into it in 2011 just to see what would happen and the bulbs we pulled from that patch were healthy and large. Of course, we also fertilized with manure and alfalfa, in addition to building the soil with cover crops.

Soil Triangle

Soil Tilth

Garlic likes loose and good draining soil. Sandy loam is ideal, but we know of many growers who do just fine in soils that have large amounts of clay as well. Refer to the Soil Triangle at right to see what ratio determines a good "sandy loam" soil (click the image to make it larger). If you have too much clay, there are two basic issues that you may have to deal with.
  • Wet Feet: Garlic doesn't grow well in standing water and will tend to rot if left with wet feet for too long. Raised beds and increasing sand and organic matter content in the soil is a remedy for this problem.
  • "Dirty" Bulbs & More Work to Harvest: Clay tends to cling to the delicate wrappers of garlic, which takes longer to remove and will stain the outer wrappers of bulbs. It also makes it a bit more difficult to pull the garlic from the ground, especially if the ground has dried down and the clay has hardened.

Nutrient Composition

Garlic responds more like a potato than an onion (onions are also alliums, like garlic) to soil pH and nutrient balance. Aim for the following basic soil composition:
  • pH: Anywhere between 6.0 and 7.5 is safe ground for garlic production.There are ways to adjust your soil pH if yours is too acidic or too alkaline.
  • Nitrogen: Garlic requires more nitrogen than most gardeners imagine, but mostly during its initial phase of emerging and spreading its majestic leaves. Organic manures are a good choice for adding Nitrogen. We use cow and poultry manures at Rasa Creek Farm (see "Amendments" below for more details).
  • Phosphorous: Phosphorous is essential for optimal root development.
  • Potassium: Having enough Potassium is critical for leaf growth and healthy bulb formation.
  • Sulfur: It's the sulfur compounds that directly inform garlic's unique healing benefits and flavors. You can obtain pure sulfur or gypsum as soil amendments from fertilizer manufacturers. Be aware that sulfur lowers the pH of your soil. Applications range from 10-25 kg per acre incorporated before planting.

Amendments

Commercial Garlic Grower Tip Manures: Always be careful when amending with manures. Organic Certification requires that we apply manure at least 120 days prior to harvest time. We only apply manures a month before planting, which is more like 330 days prior to harvest. Antibiotics and other drugs (not to mention GMO "residue" from animal feed) takes time to break down. That said, animal waste is still nature's most effective means of redistributing needed plant nutrients, in a balanced manner, back into the soil.

Cow Manure: This is an easy and relatively cost effective way to get needed Nitrogen into your fields. We've moved away from this particular technique (and are now using poultry manure instead) due to several possible negative side issues:
  • Our local supplier gets his manure from several different local dairy farms and it's difficult to obtain documentation regarding exactly what the cows that deposited that year's supply have been fed and injected with. Certain antibiotics will not break down over time, even in a hot compost, and we need assurance that those antibiotics have not been used.
  • It's possible to introduce unwanted weed seeds into your field since many seeds will survive a trip through the guts of a cow. it's disappointing to discover new and unusual weeds popping up amongst and between the garlic.
That said, in years past we would call our local supplier and have about 15,000 gallons of liquid cow manure sprayed onto two fields several weeks before planting:
  1. The field about to be planted with garlic
  2. The field that will be planted with garlic the following year
Three weeks is plenty of time for the smell to dissipate. Spraying too close to planting time would make planting an olfactory challenge, and it also gives the nitrogen a chance to "settle down" so that it doesn't shock the cloves.

It's important to "turn under" liquid manure in some way so that the nutrients in the liquid part aren't lost to evaporation. We use a disc behind our Kubota to mix the manure in with the soil (be sure to read "Tilling" below as a complement to this section.)

Poultry Manure: We've also gotten good results from poultry manure, which is pretty much the most concentrated source of nitrogen in any manure we've heard of. We always recommend buying or using (if you make it yourself) organic manure since it's just impossible to keep up with all the chemicals and GMOs that are used in feed these days. Poultry manure doesn't need to be "turned under" as quickly as liquid cow manure since it doesn't evaporate, but it is important to integrate Poultry manure into the soil before planting.

Horse Manure: We have very generous neighbors who allow us to use their composted horse manure. It's not enough to cover our fields, but it supplements nicely and works well. Be careful to ask what, if any, drugs have been given to these animals since drugs will typically come out in the dung and go right into your soil.

How to Grow Garlic - Spreading Alfalfa and Tilling
Spreading Alfalfa pellets and tilling at the same time
Alfalfa: One technique we learned from Boundary Garlic was to amend with Alfalfa. They use Alfalfa Meal at their farm, and we've improvised on the idea a little, settling on Alfalfa Pellets as being; cost effective, easy to apply and organically appropriate. We use Legal brand ("Legal" is the name of the company) pellets and have a letter of confirmation from them that no GMOs are used in their product.

NOTE: Of course, we all have to assess our own soil composition and determine what it needs on a case by case basis. Perhaps your land is already rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorous but lacks Potassium. A soil test is worth the money if you plan on going into business.

Tilling—Easy Does It

Garlic likes room to spread its feet, so if your soil is compacted and hard, your garlic's feet will be frustrated and cramped. We hate to use conventional tilling equipment (the "hard pan" that tilling creates is like a barrier to roots and the "beater-like" action of the tines destroys soil micro-biology) but we do find it necessary in preparing to plant cloves into the ground. However, we limit its use to just two times immediately prior to planting, Since we use a three year rotation for our garlic fields, that means we till any given bit of land only once (2x within three weeks) every three years. We can live with that. There are three things that have allowed us to do this:
Commercial Garlic Grower Tip
  1. The Spader: A tractor mounted, PTO driven implement (there are walk behind units as well) that is used all over Europe but is rarely scene in North America. It digs deep with 6" wide spades and then turns the soil over rather than beating it to death. It successfully shatters compaction up to 2 feet deep while leaving the delicate micro-biology of your soil intact. We cannot say enough about the wonders of Spading and encourage you to research this tool on your own.
  2. Compost Tea: Healthy soils are teeming with micro-organisms and fungal growths that create an intricate living web (often referred to as the Soil Food Web) and this web is severely compromised by traditional cultivation and fertilizing methods. We have a 1,100 liter compost tea brewer and apply tea to our fields at least twice each year to rejuvenate the soil biology. We won't go into detail here, but visit our Resources page for links to sites where you can learn more about using Compost Tea.
    CAUTION: Compost Tea is considered as identical to raw manure when it comes to Organic Certification, so be attentive as to when you spray and what you spray.
  3. Cover Crops: Also known as "Green Manure," a well managed and carefully chosen cover crop can serve to both add nutrients to your soil and loosen that soil up with the cover crop's extensive and powerful root system. See our "Cover Crop" section (two sections down) for more on this.
Nematode captured by Soil Fungus
A nematode (the worm-like creature) captured by soil borne fungus as the Nematode was trying to burrow into a plant root.

Compost Tea

This is a topic that still enjoys a lot of controversy. There are biologists who have done substantial research into the makeup of soil and the importance of the micro organisms that contribute to making soil truly healthy, but does compost tea really improve that soil micro-biology? There is an entire Yahoo Group devoted to debating and discussing the issue (Compost Teas, the Soil Food Web and Soils) and one thing that is very clear is that there is no standardized formula that we can point to and say, "That's compost tea." So a very broad range of results should be expected, dependent upon what went into making the tea. We've studied and taken courses on how to brew the stuff and here's a quick breakdown of what we've learned and what we suggest if you're interested in pursuing your own:
  • Compost Tea Extract: Consider making an extract rather than AACT (Actively Aerated Compost Tea). Extracts are like true tea, they simply "extract" the micro-organisms from the compost in the "tea bag" and suspend them (still in hibernating mode) in the surrounding water. This means that extracts have a much longer shelf life and also that you eliminate the danger of accidentally brewing little nasty organisms that are harmful to your soil, which is a danger with AACT brews.
  • Teaming with Microbes: Read the book Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels. It's teeming with great information and additional resources on the topic.
  • Compost Tea is not Fertilizer: Don't make the mistake of believing that compost tea is a substitute for fertilizer and amendments. Healthy soil micro-biology simply creates an environment in which nutrients are made more readily available to the plant life growing in it. So yes, you may need less amendments because of this, but the tea itself is not full of bio-available Nitrogen.

Crop Rotation

Alliums in general, and garlic in particular, should never be planted in soil that was planted in an allium the previous season. The chemistry of alliums is so strong and unique that it begins to infiltrate the soil, attracting the pests and diseases that alliums are most susceptible to. Not a good thing. (See Diseases and Pests below). We use a three year rotation at Rasa Creek Farm, with Nitrogen fixing and organic-matter-generating cover crops used in years when garlic is not planted. Good related practices include:
  • Clean Fields: Try to remove as much garlic plant matter from the field after harvest as you can. There are always stray leaves and even entire bulbs that are missed in the initial harvest and these will attract the wrong kind of bio-guests into the soil. It's also recommended to destroy all plant material rather than composting it.
  • Spring Purge: It's tempting to leave those stray shoots of new garlic that come up in last year's fields. It's perfectly good garlic after all. But it's probably best to pull them out. Remember that the young greens leaves of garlic are tender and delicious in their own right, so you can use them in your cooking before pulling the roots and destroying the rest.
  • No Till: You don't need to till soil that's not being planted in garlic that year. Just mow down your cover crops and broadcast the next round of cover crop seed over the top. You can use a light discing or some other means to help integrate the seed down into the soil. Avoiding tilling will help the soil micro-biology remain intact and flourishing for as long as possible.
Managing Cover Crops Profitably
The best book we've found on cover cropping

Cover Crops

Also known as "Green Manures" because they are literally green and add nutrients to the soil, just like manure. This is an enormous topic and the best cover crop regimine for your soil and climate is something you'll have to determine independently. We've included the basics here, and also recommend some great Resources you can use to do more research.
  • Nitrogen Fixers: A good way to increase soil Nitrogen levels is to cover crop with a Nitrogen fixing plant species, such as a legume like peas or vetch. The roots of these plants enjoy a unique symbiotic relationship with a particular rhozobial bacteria, a by-product of which is Nitrogen. Small Nitrogen filled nodules form on the roots of these plants when the crop is "killed" (mowed down and incorporated into the soil somehow) the Nitrogen is released in a feeding frenzy to decompose the organic matter of the plant. There is much more to this and we strongly suggest reading up on it in order to see good results from your efforts. Managing Cover Crops Profitably (MCCP) is a book published by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) that covers the topic very thoroughly.
  • Organic Matter: When cover crops are mowed down and incorporated into the soil, they decompose and add much needed organic matter to soil. As stated in Managing Cover Crops Profitably, "The benefits of organic matter include improved soil structure, increased infiltration and water-holding capacity, increased cation exchange capacity (the ability of the soil to act as a short-term storage bank for positively charged plant nutrients) and more efficient long-term storage of nutrients. Without organic matter, you have no soil to speak of, only a dead mixture of ground-up and weathered rocks."
  • Scavanging Nutrients: Cover crops, like any crop, require Nutrients to grow. They can "catch" nutrients and hold them for a while before releasing them back into the soil when they die. Otherwise these nutrients could leach away below the reach of the roots of your intended cash crop; garlic in this case, the roots of which don't go terribly deep. A cover crop of Winter Rye, whose roots are extensive and deep, can bring nutrients up from below the reach of garlic.
  • Decompaction: Anyone familiar with tree roots wriggling into the cracks in sewer pipes and plugging everything up knows how powerful roots can be. Cover crops with penetrating tap roots, like brassicas (radish, etc) can dramatically loosen compacted soil and add organic matter deep below the surface as those roots decompose after incorporation.

Planting Garlic


Okay, now we're ready to actually put some garlic in the ground... almost.

Vernalization

If you live in a warm climate or if you're planting in spring (which is sometimes done but which will usually yield smaller than average bulbs), it is advisable that you "vernalize" your seed stock. That means you expose your seed garlic to cold temperatures to stimulate its growth potential. Put it in the fridge for about two weeks prior to planting. Of course, if you plant in the fall and live in a colder climate winter will take care of this process for you.

Italian "Artichoke" garlic cloves

Popping (separating cloves)

Breaking apart the cloves from the bulbs is a great group activity, so if you've got a lot to do, try to invite some friends over for a "surprise" party. Maybe bake some garlic as a special treat. Things to know about popping:
  • With hardnecks, you can use a process we call "The Whack." We've made a short YouTube video to demonstrate the technique:

  • Don't scratch or break the clove in such a way that juice is visible. This invites disease into the clove.
  • It's okay if the clove skin peels off or is non-existent. The clove still grows just fine.
  • Careful of the basal plate (that part of the clove that attaches to the root base of the bulb). If too much of the basal plate comes off while popping, leaving a juicy bottom end visible, then discard that clove (meaning serve it to your popping guests!)
  • If you've got more than one cultivar to pop, we suggest doing one cultivar at a time so as not to risk mixing them up.
Commercial Garlic Grower Tip
Garlic planting dimpling device

Dimpling & Spacing

Spacing: It's important to give garlic enough room to spread its leaves and roots. Too close together and you'll end up with small bulbs. Too far apart and you'll waste valuable space in your garden or field. The spacing that we've found works well is 7" all around. We use a diamond pattern in beds that are 3 feet wide with 6 rows per bed. This means you'll be planting approximately 8 cloves per linear foot of your 3 foot wide bed. We leave 3 feet between beds, which is enough room for weeding and so forth. The photo at right tells it all. We manage to plant about 35,000 cloves in 3/4 of an acre this way.

Dimpling: If you're just growing a handful of garlic for personal use, you don't need to bother with a special tool for creating spacing and dimpling, but if you really want to create that beautiful symmetry in your garden, then a simple 2x4 with appropriately spaced dowels is sufficient. For commercial growers who still plant hardneck garlic by hand, however, a proper dimpler is practically a must. Some farms have a large steel barrel with welded pegs at the right spacing and a tow bar so that it can be pulled behind their tractor, often at the same time as they're doing their last pass with the tiller. We opted for a simpler, hand-push version (see photo). It was made of scrap materials so it was free and it's so light that one person can easily pick it up and roll out a 200 foot bed in a couple of minutes. 

NOTE: Many growers give their garlic far more space, planting only two rows wide per bed and up to 12 inches apart. That works too. Garlic can't have too much space from neighboring garlic, but it can have too little.

Anti-fungal Dip

If you're concerned about mold spores and aren't completely confident about the source of your seed garlic, you may want to give it a little pre-planting dip in a solution intended to kill back the mold and give your garlic a clean start. A capful of bleach in a 5 gallon pale of water (or a couple of capfuls in a wheelbarrow full of water) is enough to do the trick. You can put the cloves in a mesh bag and dip the whole thing in the solution for a few minutes then pull them out and let them drip dry for a bit before planting. It's not a guarantee of anything, but it could help to reduce the possibility of mold spores being introduced to your soil.

2012 Garlic Planting Party

Clove Orientation & Depth

Okay, you're ready to plop those cloves in the ground! Here's what to watch for when planting:
  • Tips of cloves about 2 inches below soil.
  • Hardneck cloves must be right side up, meaning that the part of the clove which had been attached to the root of the bulb is pointed downward. Otherwise they still grow but the stiff stem will have to do a 180 degree turn and the bulb will look funny.
  • Gently pack soil back around the clove. Be careful not to damage cloves with sharp rocks.
  • Try using an apron with deep pockets to hold your cloves as you scoot along. Tool belts and tree planting belts work fine too.
How to Grow Garlic Bulbils

Bulbil Furrows

All but the biggest of bulbils (Rocambole bulbils are huge and can be planted with regular spacing, or at least 4 inches apart) are planted differently than cloves. You can literally plant thousands of bulbils within a very small area. Here are the steps we use:
  • Use a 3/4" thick board that is a few inches less long than your bed is wide and create furrows approximately 1.5 inches deep across your bed. You can tap on the board with a hammer or just use your hand to wriggle down into the soil.
  • Distribute your bulbils in this furrow all the way across. Unless they are very large, it doesn't matter if bulbils are upside down or not, so you can sprinkle them rather than placing them one by one if you like. Use the following spacing:
    • Porcelains and other rice grain sized bulbils should be spaced about 1/2" to 3/4" apart.
    • Marbled Purple Stripes and other medium sized bulbils should be spaced about 1" apart.
    • Larger bulbils should be spaced about 2 inches apart, and the largest should be 4 inches.
  • Gently cover the bulbils with soil and pat it down.
  • Water them in but don't saturate the soil.

Mulching


Adding a layer of mulch over your planted garlic beds helps in a number of ways, but be careful to apply mulch according to your specific climate and conditions. Too much mulch and you'll be pulling it back in the spring to let sunlight hit the soil and excess moisture get out; too little mulch and you may be having to water far earlier in the season than you'd prefer. Mulching basics:
  • What Material: Straw is good. It spreads easily, breaks down slowly and provides good moisture retention and shade to your soil. Grass, freshly mowed or in bales (if harvested without weed seeds) is also good. It breaks down a little faster than straw. Leaves can work for small scale but would be a little bulky to use in farm applications.
  • What Depth: This is something you'll have to monitor each year and establish what works best for you. If you're concerned about cold snaps in late spring, then mulch about 5 to 6 inches in the fall. If you get a lot of rain then too much mulch will leave your garlic cold and damp in the spring, and even early summer, and that's not good. Garlic likes sun and warmth. Cold, damp conditions invite rot to settle in.
  • When to Mulch: Wait until just before your first snows and then lay your mulch. Otherwise, moles and voles and such may discover it and set up camp for the winter. Come springtime you'll find tunnels and a whole bunch of space where garlic should be growing.
Commercial Garlic Grower Tip
Farmers have labor costs to consider and mulching potentially constitutes a significant percentage of those costs: laying the mulch in fall, pulling the mulch back in spring if it's too heavy, weeding if there are weed seeds in the mulch. Farmers need to be especially careful in choosing how to cover those cloves, if at all. Here are some ideas to seriously consider if you're a farmer.

Wood Chips

There are no weed seeds in wood chips and the material is light enough that garlic shoots come right up through it in the spring without assistance. The type of wood chips used is important here. Ideally a deciduous species would be used, and best of all, a nitrogen fixing species such as Alder. All parts of the Alder tree (Alder itself is considered a "weed tree" by the forest industry and so it's readily available in many places) contain valuable nutrients and nitrogen that are slowly released back into the soil as it decomposes. Other types of wood chips use up nitrogen from the soil as they decompose since wood is a carbon material

Kraft Paper mulch on Garlic
60 lb Kraft Paper mulch visible at top of photo with garlic poking through paper and light layer of wood chips.

60 lb Kraft Paper

We've been experimenting with laying 60 lb Kraft paper right over our beds after planting the cloves in the fall. With a little bit of wood chip mulch (or clean straw) on top of the paper to keep the paper moist and soft in the spring after snow melt, the garlic is able to poke right through the paper come emergence time. The hole is then custom fit to each garlic plant, allowing no weed seeds to get in around the neck. As the paper dries out it becomes a solid barrier against new weeds coming up. The hardiest weeds will still make it through, such as Canadian Thistle and a couple of others, but the majority will be smothered. We purchase 600 ft long rolls (48" wide) for about $55 a roll from our local packaging supply warehouse, but by the pallet we could get it for only $41 per roll.

Plasticulture

For those with tough weed problems and little time, there's always black plastic mulch. It's important to lay the mulch correctly (which usually means purchasing the right equipment to lay plastic mulch) but once planted in the fall, there is virtually no weeding to be done until harvest. We've not used plastic mulch at Rasa Creek Farm yet but haven't completely ruled it out either.

NOTE: Some people may try to tell you that there's such a thing as bio-degradable plastic mulch that's been approved for use on certified organic farms. This is NOT true. Even bio-degradable plastic mulch must be entirely removed from the field after harvest in order to meet certified organic standards.

Porcelain Garlic Spring Emergence
Yugoslavian (Porcelain) in late spring

Spring Emergence


It's always exciting to see the garlic pushing up through the mulch in spring. Different cultivars will emerge at different times, though, so don't be overly concerned if it doesn't all come up at once. Keep an eye on things and if you see some empty spots where you know there should be garlic, try poking around to see if the garlic is simply stuck under some stubborn mulch. Set it free and it'll do fine.

Weeding

Too much weed competition will diminish the ultimate yield of your garlic crop, so it's important to keep your beds weeded. However, once you've achieved good top growth and have harvested the scapes, then you can essentially cease weeding since the plant already has everything it requires to establish good bulbing in the final few weeks before harvest. A thorough weeding every two to three weeks up until scaping time is sufficient, but if you have the time and your garlic patch is small then just keeping up with it on a daily basis is best. Garlic weeding basics:
  • Careful not to disturb the garlic itself. When a tool knicks the tender psuedostem of garlic, it invites disease and rot. 
  • Shallow rooted weeds are not as big a concern as ones that go deep and compete with the garlic for nutrients and moisture below.
Commercial Garlic Grower Tip

vinegar as herbicide in garlic

Vinegar as Herbicide

We've recently come across a very exciting alternative to hand or mechanical cultivation that is acceptable for organic production. David Stern, President and founder of The Garlic Seed Foundation (along with several experts in the field) provided invaluable counsel during a trial using Vinegar as a means to control weeds in garlic production at Honeyhill Farm in Livonia NY. One of our Rasa Garlic Growers has undertaken to recreate the experiment and is reporting fabulous results and so we've decided to include the information here for all to benefit from.

Click on the link below to be taken to the full, unabridged final report as prepared by Fred Forsburg upon completion of this project.

Vinegar as an Herbicide in Organic Garlic Production - Grant Number FNE03-461

Fertilizing

Proper amending in the fall goes a long way toward providing all the nutrients your garlic will need during its growth. However, a couple of boosts via foliar sprays can really help. Organic kelp fertilizer gives garlic a good shot of minerals and nutrients and can easily be sprayed onto the leaves (and right down where it emerges from the soil) using a backpack sprayer.

One such foliar fertilizer for organic production is BioFert's BioFish 3-1-2. See ingredients and directions for use on their website. Apply once or twice in spring and early summer. Feel free to add other nutrients to your spray that you know your soil is lacking.

Soil Moisture Meter - Garlic

Soil Moisture

Not too wet, not too dry; but if errors are to be made, err on the side of too dry. Some growers have limited access to water and so opt to install drip irrigation, which maximizes efficiency and pinpoints application. The ideal is to have soil that will ball up and stay in a ball when squeezed in your hand, but that won't be so moist that you can squeeze drops of water out of it.
 
Tools and techniques:
  • Drip Tape in garlic field irrigation
    Drip Tape:
     Our best advice is to run drip tape. We switched to drip tape from overhead sprinklers in 2015 and have never looked back. Do it properly, however, and pay the few extra dollars to have both a disk filter (so that the emitters in the drip line don't get clogged), and a pressure reducer valve so that your drip-line doesn't burst! You'll most likely need one line for every 2 rows of garlic in your bed, but in heavier soil you may get away with one line per 3 rows, or even 4. Drip Tape (we use Toro brand, called Aquatrax) comes with built in emitters with various spacing options. We use 8" on center spacing and .33 gallons per minute per 100 feet of tape. Check with your local supplier to see what's available in your region. We also purchased battery operated controller valves so that everything is completely automated. We opted for the Galcon 7001D model of timer and find them to be easy to program and reliable. They were shipped up from the States via Amazon, where we paid only $48 per timer.
  • Overhead Sprinklers: If drip tape isn't an option for you, overhead sprinkling can get the job done too. We don't recommend using sprinklers for two reasons. 1) the risk of overwatering where circular patterns overlap, and under-watering at the edges, and 2) the tendency for overhead watering to pool around stems, which can lead to stem rot issues. However, we used sprinklers for the first several years of our operation and managed to harvest respectable crops.
  • Moisture Meter: Last year we picked up a $30 moisture meter from our local growers supply center. A great tool for checking the soil moisture at multiple levels. We can walk around the fields and submerge it up to 16" deep wherever we like. The tip takes the reading so we know what's going on below our feet and can catch problems before they affect the garlic.

Diseases and Pests


It is important to take measures to prevent the onset of allium specific diseases and pests right from planting your first clove. Ensuring that your seed garlic comes from a reputable source is the first step. Don't use garlic from the grocery store just because it looks good. It may very well be a carrier of disease without showing any symptoms.

Good prevention practices include:
  • Annual rotation of fields and crops;
  • Planting only healthy and vigorous cloves;
  • Roguing diseased- or stunted-looking plants as soon as symptoms appear;
  • Never leaving garlic plant debris in the field. Collect all refuse and put it into the garbage or even better burn it. Never compost garlic debris.
Please visit our Diseases and Pests of garlic page for detailed information on the most common problems occurring among garlic.

Scape Removal


It makes the mouth water just to think of scapes. For most cultivars of garlic you'll be wanting to remove the scape after it has finished emerging and curling into various sorts of loops and rollercoaster-like sweeps, but before it starts to uncurl and stand tall. Removing the scape allows all that juice and energy, that would otherwise go into forming the umbel, to go down into bulb formation. There are a few cultivars where this isn't as crucial and we describe how to treat scape removal for any given cultivar on each of our cultivar description pages.

Harvesting

If you catch the scape at just the right time, it'll snap off between your thumb and fingers like a crip green bean. Here's what to watch for and ways to do it.

For Maximum Bulb Size & for Culinary Use

  • Just after the scape has finished curling is best. Wait until you start to see (and feel) a slight stiffening at the very base of the scape, right were it comes out of the topmost leaf, and then snap it off at the "sweet spot" (where it feels like that crisp green been). It usually takes about a week to ten days from first sighting of the scape tip until time to harvest, but timing varies from variety to variety.
  • Scapes begin to stiffen from the bottom up, so if you accidentally leave it on the plant too long, snap it off a little higher where it's still soft enough to do so.
  • Scapes are juicy and the juice is garlic juice; sticky, hot and aromatic. Consider wearing gloves (possibly latex surgical type) if you have sensitive skin.

For Bulbils

  • Allow the scape to fully uncurl and stand erect.
  • As soon as the umbel is erect and the pod at the top has begun to swell, cut the bottom of the scape with pruners and put the entire scape with umbel in a bucket of water.
  • The umbel will continue to grow and bulbils will form for many weeks after removal from the plant. Simply wait for the process to complete itself before cutting off the umbel and saving the bulbils for fall planting.
Scapes are good food

Eating

The basic idea is to saute' them in butter or olive oil with a little salt, or just toss them in a soup or stew. Visit our Scapes page for one way to make pesto out of scapes.
 
What you don't eat, give away to friends or to a charity. Too many growers are just overwhelmed when it comes to doing something with the scapes and so they end up in the burn pile, which is practically criminal given how flavorful scapes are. We've made an arrangement with our local Gleaners organization and they'll take everything we can throw at them. It goes into dried soups and is sent to nations in need.

Storing

Scapes keep well in the fridge for about six weeks, but they'll keep getting stiffer and stiffer if left out. The best method for storing if you want to eat scapes later in the year is to cut off the umbels and put them in zip-lock freezer bags in the freezer. When you go to add them to meals, and if you want to cut them up, snap them into pieces while they're still frozen. Otherwise they can be more difficult to cut. 

Garlic Harvest


Soil Dry Down Period

As harvest time approaches you'll want to allow the soil to dry down a little. Don't water your garlic for about two weeks just prior to harvest. This is because:
  • If you pull garlic from the ground and it is bloated with water, you'll be inviting mold to settle in when it hits the air.
  • Removing the clumps of soil that are clinging to the root ball is far more difficult when the soil is damp.
  • Bulb formation is partly a function of the garlic plant trying to preserve itself through sending as much life force as possible to its future reproductive organ. Since you've cut off its scape and thus removed all its baby bulbils, it now has to rely on the bulb in order to procreate.. or recreate in this case. 

Bulbing

It's safe to dig down and expose a bulb or two to check on bulbing progress. You want to harvest when there are still four or five strong leaves on the plant, but also make sure that the bulb wrappers are doing well by phyically checking. If the wrappers are for some reason weak or thin, with exposed cloves near the top of the bulb where it meets the stem, then you'll want to harvest soon. Besides, it's exciting to see how big the bulbs are getting! 

Garlic Harvesting Undercutter
Happiness is a Garlic Harvester

Harvesting

Most gardeners find that a narrow bladed shovel works best to harvest garlic. A Tree planting shovel is perfect for the job. Be sure to plunge the blade into the soil at least 4 inches away from the stem in case the bulb isn't centered directly under the stem. Push the blade in as deeply as it will go and then pry up towards the bulb. Don't use the shovel to lift the garlic, however. Once you've broken the ground and cut the roots on just one side you'll probably be able to just grab the garlic by the ears and yank it out.
  • Careful not to cut or bruise the garlic. It'll show later.
  • leave the pseudostem on during the curing phase.
  • Remove as much soil as possible using your hands.
  • Don't wash the bulb at this point. Water invites mold.
  • Get the garlic out of the sun as soon as possible.
Commercial Garlic Grower Tip Another generous mentor and fellow garlic farmer is Peter Helmer, of Skye Farm. Peter welcomed us to his farm several years ago during harvest and introduced us to his undercutter, a tractor mounted implement used to make harvesting go far more quickly. After seeing how smoothly and efficiently the undercutter sliced through the soil beneath the garlic, severing the roots and loosening the soil all at the same time, I was excited to return to Rasa Creek and build one myself. Five dollars worth of scrap metal was all it took. I welded it to the 3-point hitch bar of an old plow blade (see photo) and added depth gauge wheels scavenged from an old S-tine cultivator. Once a trench is dug across the beginning of the bed, we just lower the blade into the trench and drive away. The garlic bends obligingly forward as we drive along with the blade slicing the roots about two inches below the bulb. The process loosens all the soil at the same time which makes it super easy to pull the garlic up by its stem and shake the soil clods off.

Garlic Hung to Dry - Cure

Curing

There are many methods for hanging garlic to cure. The photo at right shows you how we do it at Rasa Creek; ten bundles, with ten garlic per bundle, hung from a beam that's about 7 feet above the ground. So, 100 garlic per string (we use old baling twine) spaced about 10" apart on the beam, which translates to about 1,000 garlic per 8' of beam. But you'll come up with your own system. The important things to remember are:
  • Not in the sun.
  • Plenty of ventilation and moving air. Set up a fan if necessary.
  • Leave the pseudostems on. The bulbs are actually still growing at this point and take their nourishment from the foliage above as it dries down.
  • Check the tops of the bulbs (where they meet the pseudostem) for signs of mold. For garlic that is intended for future seed, consider tearing open the bulb wrapper at the top to allow any residual moisture to escape if they're still too damp after a week or so.
  • Curing is complete when the top foliage is completely brown and crinkly and when the bulbs are sufficiently dry to the touch.
Demonstration of garlic hanging technique

Cleaning (Processing)

This is where the magic happens. Making garlic look attractive is simple, though time consuming if you've got a lot of garlic. There are actually garlic cleaning competitions at garlic festivals, to see who can clean the most bulbs in a given amount of time. Every farmer we've spoken with has come up with tricks and tools and techniques to make this job go smoothly and quickly. Here are a few of the basic steps involved and things to consider along the way.
  • Tools of the Trade: You'll want strong, sharp snips of some sort. Pruning sheers, kitchen scissors, a paper cutter, tin snips. You'll find what works best for you.
  • Remove the Pseudostem: Cut the stem off at about 1/2" above the bulb. If the bulb is going to be seed garlic then cut it little higher (1.5 inches) so that you can use it like a handle to help break apart the cloves.
  • Remove the Beard: The dangling root tendrels are called "the beard." These need to be trimmed fairly close to the bulb in order to ensure that unwelcome guests do not inhabit the area; about a 1/4" is pretty standard. The stuff you see from abroad has the roots ground off with a grinding stone of some sort. 
  • Wrapper Cleaning: Depending on the cultivar and your soil type, this can be more or less easy. Clay clings to wrappers making you have to peel the outer layer off if you want a clean looking bulb. Rocamboles can have tight skins, making this job difficult. Marbled Purple Stripes can have relatively loose skins, making the job a snap.

Grading 

What's the bulb for? Is it going back into the ground? Is it to eat next week? Next month? Is it to ship to a friend on the other side of the country? You'll want to save the best seed garlic bulbs for yourself to plant in the fall; big but not necessarily the biggest. Some pointers:
  • Garlic for Seed: Healthy is the main criteria. No blemishes, knicks, cuts, mold or severe deformities. Avoid double cloves (cloves that are not clearly differentiated from one another) if possible, unless you like how they look when they grow in the garden. Big cloves yield big bulbs, to a point. A healthy, strong, medium sized bulb can yield good size bulbs too.
  • Garlic to Eat: All garlic is good to eat, regardless of the size, shape or condition (unless its full of mold!) You'll want to use bulbs that have torn or damaged wrappers, or exposed clove skins, as eating garlic first.
  • Measuring Garlic: There are many (and sometimes conflicting) methods for measuring garlic. Here's what we've settled on at Rasa Creek Farm.
    • 1.5" to 1.75" = Small
    • 1.75" to 2" = Medium
    • 2" - 2.5" = Large
    • 2.5" and up = X-Large
We've made a simple tool for grading our garlic using holes in a piece of plywood. A diagram is available for download on our Resources page HERE.

Harvesting Bulbils

Bulbils will generally be harvested at the same time as their parent bulbs, but sometimes a little sooner. If the bulbils were small and planted in furrows, then you'll just wait for the tops to die completely down and then sift around in the soil along the furrow lines and find all the little rounds buried just below the surface. It's like an Easter Egg hunt. Get the kids involved. They love it.
 
If the bulbils were larger then you may have fully cloved mini-bulbs to harvest. Pull them out and treat them the same as you would an adult bulb, but keep them separate and label them accordingly. Here's our nomenclature for various generations of bulbil development.
  • Bulbils = Newly harvested Umbels with bulbils
  • 1 Year Olds = Garlic that was planted as bulbils; either last fall or in the spring.
  • 2 Year Olds = Garlic that was planted as 1 Year Old.
  • 3 Year Olds = ...you get the idea.

Storage


Temperature & Humidity

After the curing phase is complete, garlic keeps best in a shaded or dark, well ventilated place. There are specially made ceramic jars that have ventilation holes in the bottom and that allow the garlic to breath while keeping cool. The fridge is not a good idea: at 4 degrees C (the average fridge temperature) garlic gets the impression that it's time to sprout and start growing again. There have been studies that show garlic stores very well and for a very long time at exactly -2 degrees C (29 F) but you would need a commercial freezer with precise controls to do that. If you're interested in Spring planting then perfecting your storage technique will become essential. So, the basics are...
  • Not in direct sunlight
  • 10 to 16 degrees C (50 to 60 F) 
  • 60% humidity (approx)
  • Well cured prior to storage
  • Wrappers intact

Freezing as an option (for culinary purposes)

Don't put whole bulbs into the freezer, but here's a method for preserving garlic in the freezer that works really well.
  • Food processor garlic into a mush and then place it in a zip-lock freezer bag. Remove all the air and make it lay very flat (1/8" to 3/8" thick). When you remove it from the freezer you can then break off however much you want to use and put the rest back.
  • Same idea as above but mix with basil or whatever your favorite Pesto recipe is.