Garlic is one of those “plant it and forget about it” crops. Although garlic can be planted in the spring, fall is the best time for planting. It gives the cloves a chance to establish a good root system which helps produce bigger bulbs. In my area, I plant my garlic after the first hard frost, which usually occurs mid-October.
A day before I plant my garlic, I separate all the cloves from the bulb, making sure to leave their papery skins intact and let them air dry overnight to cure.
Garlic grows best in fertile, loose, well-drained soil which is exposed to day-long sunshine. Dig a furrow approximately 3 inches deep and plant the cloves pointy side up. Cloves should be spaced approximately 6 inches apart in the row. Cover the cloves with the remaining soil and water in well. Mulch with a few inches of straw to protect the cloves during the winter.
Approximately 4-5 weeks after planting, you’ll see garlic shoots start poking up through the mulch. The garlic will continue to grow until the cold weather sets in and then it will go dormant until the spring.
As the garlic grows over the summer, it will produce scapes (long curly-q’s that shoot up from the middle of the plant). It’s important to remove the scapes, so all the plant’s energy is concentrated on growing bigger bulbs. Don’t throw the scapes away! They have a nice mild garlic flavor and can be used for cooking. I use them to make pickled garlic scapes.
Garlic is usually harvested in late summer. The key to knowing when the garlic is ready to be pulled is to take a cue from the leaves. When the bottom 3-4 leaves start to die off and turn brown, it’s time to harvest. You can use a pitchfork or small shovel to dig out the bulbs, but I find that digging them by hand is less destructive to the bulbs. I never fail to miscalculate with the shovel and end up cutting right through the garlic.
Once the garlic is dug, it needs to be air dried or cured for several weeks before it’s stored. Gently brush any loose soil off the bulbs and gather the garlic by the stalks and tightly tie them into small bunches or braids. The garlic should be hung in a well ventilated area, out of the sunlight, for 3-4 weeks. Once the garlic has cured, the dried stalks can be cut off to about 1-2″ above the bulb and the roots can be trimmed. The garlic will keep through the winter by storing it in a dark place in your home.