“It’s Garlic Planting Time”
Susan Price, UCCE Master Gardener of Amador County
A world without garlic is hard to imagine. It enhances so many of our favorite cuisines with an aroma that conjures up so many wonderful food memories. Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the Amaryllis family, which also includes leeks, onions, and shallots. There are two main types of garlic—softneck, with numerous smaller cloves and hardneck, which produces a green stalk or “scape” in the spring with fewer but larger cloves. Elephant garlic, not technically true garlic, more closely related to the leek, has a bulb with very large, mild-flavored cloves. Garlic is easy to grow, even in small gardens, especially if compact varieties are planted. Generally, October through December is the perfect time to plant but it will depend on weather conditions. It is best to plant at least 2 weeks before the first frost to give your garlic a chance to get established before winter sets in.
Almost 90% of the garlic grown in the U.S. is grown in California. California Early and California Late are the two major commercial varieties. California Early has white skins and is planted in November for harvest in June. California Late has light purple skins and is planted in December for harvest in July and August. Local nurseries may offer varieties like Spanish Rojo, Late Pink, or California White and online sources like Peaceful Valley Organic Farms () has a large selection to choose from. Select garlic heads that are firm and tight-skinned and plant in full sun. Garlic prefers well-amended, slightly moist, sandy and loamy soil with good drainage.
To plant garlic, take apart a bulb and remove the papery outside wrapping, but keep the covering on the individual cloves. Plant each clove separately, pointed end up, spaced about 6” apart in rows that are 10–12 inches apart. You can plant bulbs from the grocery store, but to ensure you are planting a flavorful variety that has been stored correctly you’re better off buying bulbs specifically for planting. Mulch well and keep your growing area weed-free to prevent root competition.
Harvest when the plant tops begin to die, using a pitch fork to avoid cracking the bulbs. Let the bulbs dry in the sun for three weeks until the skins become papery. If you are only growing a few plants, you can store the bulbs by braiding the tops and hanging the rope of garlic in a cool, dry place or placing bulbs in a well-ventilated container, e.g. a mesh bag. Garlic can be stored up to 3-5 months under cool (60 degrees F), dry, dark conditions.
As with all low-acid vegetables, garlic will support the growth and subsequent toxin production of the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, if it is not handled properly. When home canning, infusing in oils or storing as fresh herbs, be sure to follow safe food preserving practices.
For more information refer to: ANR Publication 8568, October 2016, Garlic: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy.
References: “Garlic”, by Sara Malone, Master Gardener, UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County (undated); “Plant garlic now for summer harvest”, by Rebecca Jepsen, Master Gardener, UC Master Garden of Program of Santa Clara County, 10/16/16.