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8 Tips to Help Your Garlic Thrive

Garlic is one of my favorite crops. First there are few dishes cooked in this house that don’t include at least one clove. Second it’s super easy to grow. It generally has very few pest and disease issues. It also does well in storage. Absolutely perfect for backyard gardeners and farmers alike.

However just because garlic is an easy keeper doesn’t mean you can just throw it in the ground and ignore it. Read on for tips to help you get the best harvest.

Prepare the bed before planting.

Garlic can actually handle a range of soil conditions but does best in well-drained, loose soil. If you can, work in some organic matter like compost, aged manure, or well rotted sawdust and your garlic will do better. You may also want to consider using a garden fork or broad fork to lift the soil adding more air space.

Plant at the proper depth and spacing.

A proper depth and spacing will allow the bulbs to form well so you get nice size cloves and more uniform bulbs.

Keep it weeded.

Unless you live in a place with a lot of winter snowfall and consistent freezing temperatures you’ll probably need to do a bit of weeding throughout the fall, winter, and spring. It won’t be as bad as your regular season crops but it’s still important. Weeds compete for water, nutrients and if they get ahead of your garlic, light and space.

Keep it watered.

Especially if you live in a dry area it’s important to remember to water garlic while it’s actively growing. Garlic has shallow roots so for good bulb development it needs moist soils.

Use mulch.

Keeping you garlic properly mulched is essential for a healthy harvest. Mulch is important to keeping your garlic protected from frosts before it gets established. It also holds moisture, blocks weeds, and decomposes to add nutrients. It may be necessary to add more mulch in the spring depending on how much your mulch decomposes. You can also add a little compost mixed in with the mulch to give the garlic a little nutrient boost.

If you’re growing hardneck garlic, harvest the scapes.

Scapes are the flowering part of the garlic. If you clip them off while they’re still fairly small the plant will put more energy into the bulb instead of flowering. Garlic scapes have the added bonus of being delicious!

Let your garlic dry out before harvest.

About two weeks before you harvest you’re garlic you should remove the mulch and stop watering. This allows the garlic to begin drying for curing and storage.

Lastly read the Southern Exposure Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide.

It has tons of good information for planting, growing, harvesting, curing, and storing garlic.

A Brief History of Garlic

Turkish Red Hardneck Garlic

Garlic’s easy cultivation and powerful flavor has made it a favorite for farmers and chefs alike. It’s is an unbelievably common ingredient in food today worldwide but few people realize that garlic is one of the oldest known horticultural crops. Evidence from historical records suggests that garlic has been cultivated for at least 5000 years! There are references to its use found from ancient Egypt, India, and China.

Garlic is believed to be originally native to Central Asia as this is where it can currently be found growing wild. Many plants referred to as “wild garlic” worldwide are members of the Allium family (leeks, onions, shallots, chives) but are not in fact true garlic or Allium Sativum. All cultivated garlic comes from two subspecies A. sativum var. ophioscorodon and A. sativum var. sativum. Like many “wild garlics” elephant garlic, though tasty, is not a a “true garlic” but is instead a member of the onion genus.

Garlic Scapes

A. sativum var. ophioscorodon often referred to simply as ophioscorodon are the hardneck garlics. They are generally grown in cooler northern climates and typically produce fewer but larger cloves. They also produce garlic scapes or flower heads. These are generally cut off before they open and eaten. This allows the garlic to put energy into the bulb rather than flowering.

A. sativum var. sativum are the softenck garlics. They do better in hotter climates farther south than hardneck garlics do. They’re also favored for braiding and their ability to keep extremely well in storage.

The cultivation of garlic probably came about because it was easy for people to pull up and travel with for later use or to plant somewhere else. Garlic cultivation may have also been a quickly taken up by humans because of it’s ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Meaning that garlic can make seed, combining genes with other garlic plants, but it is also very simple to grow garlic clones from individual cloves.

Another reason garlic may have quickly become so popular and widespread is because it grows well in a wide range of climates and soil conditions. Garlic is also very hardy and susceptible to few diseases and pests. So much so that in modern gardens it’s used as a companion plant to deter certain pests.

As people traveled and traded garlic’s use and cultivation spread. Little is known about most of its first travels around Asia but it is documented that garlic was first brought to Europe by the Crusaders.

Interestingly garlic has played more than a culinary role in human history. It’s been used for both spiritual and medicinal purposes through the years. In fact, it’s the most widely recognized medicinal herb.

In medieval times it was believed that garlic could ward off all types of evil. A belief that easily lent garlic for use in warding off vampires. Many cultures also believed that garlic was an aphrodisiac or held special powers relating to love. In the Middle Ages it was grown by the monasteries for its healing powers.

In ancient Greece garlic was given to athletes as it was believed to enhance their power and in ancient Egypt it was often fed to commoners and slaves to keep them healthy and working well. This belief also led to it’s use in feeding both Greek and Egyptian warriors as well as Roman soldiers and sailors who needed to be strong.

Garlic’s use as an herbal remedy is as varied as it is widespread. In ancient China garlic was prescribed for respiratory ailments, digestive issues, diarrhea, and parasites. It was also used in combination with other herbs to treat fatigue, impotency, headaches, and insomnia. It was used similarly in ancient India plus was prescribed to fight infections.

Today garlic is most renowned for its pungent flavor but has also gained some scientific credibility as a medicinal herb. Though there isn’t conclusive evidence some studies suggest that garlic can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, boost your immune system, and help the body fight off illness and infection through its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Garlic’s story is ultimately a human story. This one plant has been handed down, shaping people’s meals (and possibly health) for 5000 years. If there’s an easy to grow plant that deserves a place in the home garden surely it’s garlic.

Remember garlic is planted in the fall so the time to start yours is now!