Foodie Friday: How to Grow, Harvest and Store Garlic

Garlic is possibly the easiest, and certainly one of the most rewarding, items I grow in the garden. Here’s how to do it yourself …

First, the biggest tip I have is to order your seed garlic early! That’s how you get the most fun and unusual varieties.

I source my seed garlic from a wonderful site, Filaree Garlic Farm, which has all organic products and a huge range of garlic types.

Here in New England, I plant in mid-October, which tends to be a very pleasant time to be in the garden – cool but sunny.   The steps to plant are simple:

  1. Just as with everything (and I do mean everything) you plant, prep soil with fertilizer/compost by loosening soil and mixing the fertilizer and/or compost in.
  2. Take a clove of garlic and plant it root side down, pointy side up, 6” apart with 9”-12” between rows, and 2” deep.
  3. I like to put down some straw on top as mulch to protect the cloves while they overwinter, but this year I only did that on part of the bed and all the garlic came up the same – so you can decide for yourself based on your climate if you want the extra protection.

Then you wait, and wait and wait.   I literally do nothing with the garlic – I don’t fertilize, I don’t water, I just let mother nature handle it. I’m sure that adding fertilizer periodically would increase size of the heads, but one of my favorite things about this crop is not having to do a darn thing until harvest time, and still having it come out lovely.

My garlic starts shooting up in very early Spring, often when frost is still on the ground. In mid-June, it starts sending up scapes, which look like this:

Scapes can be cut and eaten. They make a fantastic pesto if you combine with parmesan and olive oil in a blender. They’re great cut into rings and sautéed. It’s a nice way to extend the use of the plant.

You know garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves start to die and look like this:

Garlic is insanely easy to harvest, you can just pull it right out of the ground. My four year old harvested ours and felt very important.

I let it dry spread out on a table for a couple of days somewhere cool, which dries out the dirt and makes them easier to clean. To clean, just remove the outer layer of ‘paper’, and they go from this:

To this! Yes, believe it or not those are the same heads (minus a few for use in pickling – but that’s for another post)!

To store and dry the garlic, you want to remove most of the dead leaves on the stem, then make sure that the garlic heads are not touching one another. The classic way to do this is to braid the stems (I hold the braid together with a rubber band at the end).  It’s basically using your old summer camp skills to French braid garlic together, like so:

But if you’re not interested in that (or if you’ve got elephant head garlic or other variety which has a much stiffer and impossible-to-braid stem), simply bundling like this works great (again, held together by a rubber band) and is MUCH easier and less time-consuming:

I hang them to dry, and they keep remarkably. Last year I harvested my 40 heads of garlic in July, and finally finished it up in November, and it would keep even longer if you aren’t someone who eats garlic every single day, like I am.

As far as varieties, I’ve really like the fun small red ones you don’t see in stores, like Ajo Rojo and Rose de Lautrec. I also really enjoy elephant, simply because the scapes are huge, the cloves are big and gorgeous, and it stores so well.

There you have it, garlic, the lazy gardener’s-style way!