Fall is Garlic Planting Season!
Used to add flavor to dishes worldwide, and known for its medicinal properties, garlic is also one of the easiest garden crops to grow. Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, and chive. Garlic in unusual as a garden crop in that, as you would a flower bulb, you normally plant it in the fall. Fall is right around the corner as they say and if you want to grow some garlic next year right now would be a great time to start planning.
There are two main varieties of garlic, hardneck and softneck. These two groups are also broken down into hardnecks: Porcelain Garlics, Rocambole Garlics, and Purple Stripe Garlics and softnecks: Artichoke Garlics and Silverskin Garlics and a few others. There are many varieties in each of these categories as well. In Illinois the hardneck varieties generally do better than softneck. Though there are several softneck varieties, such as Inchellium Red that will do well in Illinois.
Garlic should be planted in well drained soil with a good amount of organic matter. Compost will help give the garlic the proper amount of organic matter. If the soil is too moist the garlic can rot in the ground. A raised bed will help garlic it is grown in areas that remain damp all year. The bulbs should be planted 8 to 12 inches apart in rows about 18 inches apart. The cloves should be planted with the tip, or narrow end, facing up and about an inch or so deep. Mulch, such as straw, should be placed on the garlic to help protect it during the winter and protect it from the effects of the freeze-thaw cycle.
Garlic must experience a chilling period before it will set a bulb. Planting it in the fall gives it this chilling period and allows for some growth before spring. It must be planted early enough to allow for this early growth but not too early that there is excessive growth. Excessive growth will be burned off by a hard freeze and will hurt the plant. Early October is when I generally plant garlic. This seems to be the ideal time to plant it throughout the northern half of Illinois.
In the spring, after the green shoots start poking through, remove the straw mulch. Keeps weeds controlled as they will quickly take over limiting the garlic’s ability to grow. Garlic needs to be kept well watered as well. Pests and diseases that affect garlic are similar to what affects other members of the allium family such as onions. Be on the look out for onion thrips, onion maggots and bulb rot. If given a well drained site to grow with good air circulation and a good crop rotation plan, garlic is relatively care free.
Hardneck varieties develop “scapes” or flower shoots that should be removed. If left on the plant the scapes can reduce the size of the bulb. The scapes are edible themselves and if harvested early enough, can be used in many dishes.
Harvest garlic before the tops completely die down. The best is when there are still several green leaves. If left too long in the soil the outer skin can rot leaving only loose bulbs. After harvesting, remove excess soil but do not wash. Lay the plants or hang them in a well ventilated room. Do not leave them in the sunlight. After 4 to 6 weeks, roots and tops can be trimmed off. For appearance the outer dirty skins can be removed. Store cured garlic in a cool dry place. Save some of the cloves to replant again in the fall.
As it is pretty easy and carefree to grow garlic is a great crop for novice gardeners, try growing some this fall! There are many good books and websites devoted to growing garlic. Some garlic info can be found at:
The Boundary Garlic Farm: https://www.garlicfarm.ca/growing-garlic.htm
Some good sources for garlic to plant are:
Great Northern Garlic: http://www.greatnortherngarlic.com/