Truthfully, I never even contemplated growing my own garlic until a couple of years ago. I just (wrongly) assumed that it would be a challenge to add to my repertoire and would be easier to just what I need from the supermarket. Boy was I mistaken!
Growing garlic in the garden is surprisingly easy if you make sure to meet a few growing conditions. The following tips will help guide you along your journey.
1. Prepare the soil
Choose a garden location that hasn't been used in the last couple of years for garlic or onion crops, working 3-4" of finished compost or organic matter in the soil well. Garlic plants like fertile, well-drained soil. Create furrows that are approximately 6" apart.
2. Plant garlic cloves
Garlic does best when planted in the fall, with enough time to allow the root systems to establish before the plants go dormant for the winter. The best time to plant is about 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost in the fall. Garlic is planted using cloves you can purchase from a nursery, or you can plant organic garlic purchased from the supermarket. For planting instructions, check out Burpee's website.
3. Mulch planting bed to overwinter
After planting, apply 4-6" of straw or other mulch to the planting bed to protect tender plants from winter temperatures. Mulching also prevents cloves from being heaved out of the ground during alternating periods of freezing and thawing.
4. Provide adequate nitrogen
Early in the spring season side-dress garlic furrows with a nitrogen rich fertilizer such as blood meal, poultry manure, or other high-quality nutrient source. Just as bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight apply fertilizer again.
5. Taper watering in mid-June
Plants need adequate water to grow, but do not like to sit in soggy soil. Allow the top 1" of soil to dry out before watering and taper watering off in mid-June. This is when plants stop forming new leaves and focus on putting all of their energy into producing bulbs.
6. Harvest when leaves brown
When your garlic plants have 5-6 green leaves and a couple begin to turn brown, it's time to begin harvesting. According to Fine Gardening, each leaf represents a wrapper layer surrounding the forming heads; by harvesting at this stage you will still have 2-3 papery layers left on the heads after harvest.