After you purchase your garlic, make sure you protect your investment. Improper storage will reduce shelf life of garlic. Whole bulbs of garlic will keep for 6-12 months or more when stored at room temperature in a dry, dark place that has ample air circulation. Keep in mind, that garlic's lifetime decreases once you start removing cloves from the bulb. Storing garlic uncovered, such as in a wire-mesh basket inside your cupboard or beneath a small overturned clay pot, is ideal. You can also store garlic in a paper bag or mesh bag. Just be sure there is plenty of dry air and little light to inhibit sprouting.
To avoid mold, do not store garlic in plastic bags. Garlic needs to breathe. Garlic stores best long term when it is stored at between 55F and 65F and between 40% and 60% humidity. A normally air conditioned house or basement seems to do pretty good. To get the longest storage life out of garlic, we do recommend putting the garlic bulbs in a brown paper bag and putting them in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. When they come out of cold storage, they will want to sprouting thinking it is time to grow, so only take them out as needed. Garlic sprouting is a natural part of the garlics life, but it does seem to turn bitter when cooked. These sprouts have 13% more nutrients than the garlic cloves, so remove the sprout and eat it before cooking to get the superior health benefits from the sprout.
Every farmer will have their own specialty that works for them and their farm depending on many factors such as soil, equipment, region, garlic variety, etc..
There is a positive correlation between the size of the clove planted and the size of the bulb harvested. Some growers grade their cloves by size/weight and plant the largest. Large cloves yield large bulbs, as long as there are no limitations in the environment. In large garlic bulbs there may still be some small cloves, these small cloves usually yield small bulbs although they came from a large bulb. Medium size garlic bulbs can offer the largest percent increase of growth while still reaching a market size. Small bulbs usually produce small bulbs but can be used to multiply an attractive garlic strain quickly since your will have more cloves per pound. For example, I purchased 1lb. of small Spanish Roja garlic bulbs, and planted them. That summer, I ended up with a nice crop of about 8 pounds with medium size bulbs. In the fall, I planted about 4lbs. of the larger bulbs and ate the rest! The next summer we yielded in approx. 12lbs. of large bulbs, 25lbs. of medium size bulbs, and 8 lbs. of small bulbs.
Small cloves have their value too, since they can be planted and used as spring garlic and harvested early in the spring and eaten like a green onion. Plant either the small cloves 2-3” apart in a row or plant the entire small garlic bulb 3-4” apart, and harvest in the spring when it looks like a green onion. This is a great addition to a farm market stand in early spring when there are few vegetable crops available.
Planting should be done 6 weeks prior to ground freeze. In the Northern States in the US the best time to plant is about the 2nd week of October. The middle to southern sections of the US can plant later than Mid October. Planting too early, allows the clove not only to root but to send up a green shoot. Tall shoot emergence is not desirable, since winter kill does waste plant energy. With the unusually (and unpredictable) warm falls, many have seen over 6” of shoot and leaf growth before winter sets in. If this happens, provide more mulch to protect the garlic. It will bounce back in the spring. Garlic can be planted into frozen ground, but it will be a miserable task. If you do plant late, it may not allow the clove sufficient time to initiate its roots and anchor itself in the soil which may result in winter injury and heaving out of the ground in the spring. If you do plant garlic late in the season, make sure you soak your garlic in fertilizer overnight if possible to give it a boost of root growth before planting.
Cloves are separated from the bulb just prior to planting. It is best to separate cloves as close to planting as possible, but many farmers start separating cloves up to 2 weeks before planting. The longer the cloves sits separated from the bulb the faster it will start to naturally deteriorate. For clove separation, we use an old fashioned potato peeler. Put the curve of the peeler down the stem of the hard neck. Then pull the peeler to the right to break the bulb in half being careful not to damage any cloves. Then separate each clove. You may choose to plant only the large cloves and eat the smaller cloves or plant them for green garlic. If you are planting a large amount of garlic, we do recommend planting the smaller cloves in their own row, so if there is an area that gets neglected it will be the small cloves which usually yield smaller bulbs. These can also be harvested in the spring as spring garlic.
Prepare the soil to ensure a balanced incorporation of organic matter and fertilizer, and to loosen the planting bed 8-12 inches deep, so the garlic roots have loose soil to grow in. When planting in the fall, add your compost or fertilizer a few weeks before planting. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it will need good soil to feed on. You may choose to have a soil test to see what your nutrients your field might need. For garlic farms, we recommend getting a soil test that includes more than just N-P-K and Ph. Get a soil test that looks at micro and macro nutrients and get a fertilization plan based on your test. Soil prep and building good soil is the key to a good crop. Every time a crop is taken off the land, nutirents must be put back into the soil with tillable cover crops, compost and fertilzers to build the soil to continue to get a good crop.
Row spacing is dictated by the grower’s preference or by the size of cultivation equipment. They need all the nutrition they can find, and to avoid competition they should not be crowded. In the end, garlic should have at least a 6" diameter spacing around the garlic, but 9” is preferred especially for large cloves and bulbs.
Garlic has a better survival rate when mulch is applied. Mulch insulates and prevents the freezing/thawing action which can heave cloves out of the ground. If snow cover can be assured, that can be adequate mulch, but we would still recommend mulch to protect the garlic. Clean straw, chopped leaves, grass clippings or other types of available mulch can be applied 4-6” inches deep. An organic mulch should be loose enough so the garlic shoots can emerge through it in the spring. As soon as spring arrives, make sure the garlic is emerging through the mulch. Mulch will also conserve soil moisture and provide weed control, so it is best to keep the mulch on the garlic until harvest.
After mulching your garlic, it is time to rest and wait until spring. Garlic is usually the first green shoots out of the ground as the snow melts!
Keene Organics Garlic, Sun Prairie, WI 53590 (608) 215-7599
Certified Organic Garlic, Heirloom Garlic, Seed Garlic & Eating Garlic
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