A bit about Garlic
Garlic can be planted from seed (called bulbils). This is a cheap way to have a lot of garlic however for a bulbil to get to a nice eating size it can take 3-4 years. Most garlic is planted from divided cloves which gives you a large bulb harvest in 8 months! In the garlic family there are two subspecies hardneck and softneck. Softneck stores well, has a mild flavor and a long pliable stem that can be braided. Hardnecks have complex, deep flavors, skins that slip off easily and store for 6-10 months.
Along with the taste different, garlic varieties have a different average clove numbers, so depending on the variety you can get anywhere from a 60-90 garlic bulb harvest from a pound of planting garlic. Planting garlic usually sells out long before planting time and some varieties are extremely hard to buy. Bulbils are cheaper but even harder to find the variety you want. Garlic prices per pound have been rising considerably over the last years.
Planting Garlic in Missouri
Garlic is something I never realized that I can grow myself in Missouri. Because I knew of nobody that grew it I had assumed that it needed a warmer climate…it does not. Although some climates allow for garlic to be planted in the spring my only ‘spring planting’ of garlic in Missouri was a complete disaster. I now plant garlic in the fall 2 weeks before the average MO first frost date.
Separate bulbs into individual cloves RIGHT BEFORE planting, being careful not to break off as little of root end as possible. Plant each clove with the root end down, and pointed tip up, 6 inches apart and 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Larger cloves will produce the larger bulbs. After planting, cover area completely with 1-2 inches of mulch. (I prefer straw) I plant on or near Oct 15, check weather and plan (guess) accordingly. No more winter care is required except watering if extremely dry. Winter is the time when the bulb/roots start to develop and ideally no green tops should sprout before spring. Although in years when the first frost came late I have had tops 1 foot high in a mild mid-winter with no visible crop damage, so do not be concerned if your tops do sprout up. I rotate my garlic planting area yearly and plant in my garden where the soil has been amended with rabbit and horse manure. Garlic is tolerant of many soil types and textures, but grows best in sandy clay loam that has a high organic content with a 6.5 pH. Bulbs may rot in heavy, wet soils. It is important that the bed is free of weeds. Garlic is mulched to control weeds and keep moisture even. Garlic likes to be well fertilized. Use quality compost or fertilizer with 1-2-2 NPK ratio. Liquid Seaweed/Kelp is often used. Side-dress plants in spring. Do not fertilize beyond late spring, high nitrogen levels at this stage may affect storage quality. In hardneck varieties of garlic seed tops will form, called scapes, and these should be cut off to produce bigger bulbs. Harvest mid to late June after a few leaves have turned yellow/brown and several healthy green leaves remain. Each leaf represents a wrapper on the clove and you don’t want to loose to many but you want the plant to be done growing. Loosen soil and lift with a garden fork. Do not wash off as this will add moisture to bulb and the point is to dry it out. Curing is usally done by hanging in groups of six in a dim area with ample airflow for 2-3 weeks. After curing is complete, lop off the tops about an inch above bulb and trim roots.
Save your biggest and healthiest bulbs for replanting. Store garlic in cool, dark, dry place until planting time. Medium or large bulbs that you will not use can be sold as planting garlic to others and the smallest of the harvest made into garlic powder by dehydrating and grinding up.