Gardening is a Natural Beginning to a Healthier Living.
Gardening is a Natural Beginning to a Healthier Living.
The instructions below are for my zone: Zone 8b. Instructions may vary depending on your zone. Remember to locate your zone: Plant Hardiness Zone.
What came first? The seed, umbel/bulbil, clove, or corm? I don't actually know the answer, but in order to show the process of how hard neck elephant garlic grows in my garden, I have to start somewhere.
So, let's start with the elephant garlic corm! Refer to the images above.
CORMS (tiny replicas of the elephant garlic clove) grow at the bottom of the elephant garlic bulb attached by their own root system. Elephant garlic is the only variety of garlic that grows corms in this way. You can pull them off and grow them just like you do your regular garlic cloves. The catch is that they will take about 2 years before they are actual full-sized garlic bulbs with individual cloves. If you are not in a hurry, this can give you a large yield in a couple years.
Instructions on how to plant corms:
**NOTE: The first year after you plant the corm, you will only get a little round bulb, like a tiny onion (see image above). The following year, you will have a full-sized garlic bulb of about 3-4 cloves (maybe with its own corms). Voila!
Yes, time consuming. That is why I said make sure you are not in a hurry for garlic when planting corms.
Now, let's look at regular hard neck garlic.
Hard neck vs. Soft neck. What is the difference?
Simply put: Hard neck garlic has a hard neck because it grows a garlic scape (flower) and a soft neck garlic has a soft neck because it does not grow a garlic scape. Pretty simple, right?
Hard neck garlic grows well in colder climates and can handle winter weather if mulched properly, while soft neck garlic grows better in warmer climates and does not necessarily enjoy the colder winters. The soft neck garlic with the white paper is what you typically find at the grocery stores.
The following information will cover how to grow hard neck garlic, which will also be true for the elephant garlic. Most of the growing process can be used for soft neck garlic as well, just minus the garlic scape information. I will walk you through from beginning to end (planting to harvest, storage, and even a couple ideas on how to use the cloves and the garlic scape).
OH! Keep in mind that all the knowledge I share is coming directly from first hand experience in my own sustainable garden.
Garlic is one of the most trouble-free plants to grow in your garden. It practically grows all by itself.......well, practically. Make sure you choose a garlic that grows well in your area. You will have the best results from garlic that has already been acclimated to your growing zone, climate and soil.
Garlic needs 6-8 hours of full sun and well-draining soil.
Fill the dirt bed with bonemeal (organic phosphorous for root development and calcium for the soil) in the Fall and mix it in to the dirt thoroughly. This will prepare the seedlings to store energy for the greens that will sprout in the Spring.
Look up the estimated first frost date in your area. Plant your garlic cloves in the prepared garlic bed 45-50 days before your first frost date to allow the cloves to establish roots before the ground freezes. Leave 4-6 inches between each clove. Bury the cloves with the sharp tip facing upwards and deep enough to cover the whole clove with the sharp tip just above the dirt line. Seems like a lot of space between the cloves because they are so small, but the leaves will need room to grow and good air flow to avoid any kind of moisture entrapment.
Once your garlic cloves are in the ground, cover them with a heavy mulch. This can be leaves, straw, grass clippings, or your choice of mulch this is available to you. Just make sure it is a thick layer to protect your cloves from freezing.
Now the wait begins.
tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.....
Oh look! The cloves are popping up through the mulch and its only February! As Spring approaches, and the weather gets a little warmer, you can take the mulch off your garlic. Sometimes I leave it on and sometime I take if off, depending on how mild or harsh my Spring weather is.
I noticed when I left the mulch on, which helps the soil retain moisture, there was some tiny mold spots on the garlic leaves. We also had a very rainy season that I am sure played a part. If you get a lot of rain, I would remove the mulch.
We want to give our garlic the best possible chance at survival, so when the weather warms around early Spring (March for me), it is time to add some Nitrogen to the soil. Liquid fish fertilizer or blood meal are great options, but you can use whatever is available to you. This will help with leaf development by increasing the nitrogen levels in the soil.
Your garlic is growing leaves and getting taller and taller. Around late June-early July, the garlic will produce a garlic scape. See image to the right. The scape will grow up through the middle of the garlic and start to curl, making a loop.
You have two choices at this point.
Let's explore both options below.
Let the garlic scape continue to grow. It will straighten out over time and form a large purple flower (see image above), which will provide you with bulbils and tiny black seeds. You can harvest the bulbils and plant them just like you do an individual garlic clove. They are just really really really tiny garlic replicas and will take a few years to get the size of an actual full grown garlic.
Once you have removed the bulbils out of the individual flower heads, the flower is now ready to produce the 2nd most amazing thing. Its tiny black seeds. When the flower starts to die back, you can cut it down and turn it upside down in a brown paper bag to finish drying out completely. Then you can harvest the tiny black seeds to grow brand new garlic. This process is much slower as it will take 3-4 years of replanting to yield an actual garlic bulb. The plus side to the seed process, is that the seeds now have the genetics from YOUR garden's structure (soil, nutrients, weather, etc.) in their tiny DNA. They will grow better in your environment, than store bought seeds, each year. The viability for the first year is 10-15%. Each year that you grow true seeds from this original seed will provide you with less bulbils and more seeds. Each year, you are making your garlic stronger for your growing condition and you will end up with 100% viable seeds in a few years. If you leave the scape on the plant, the energy that would have gone to the garlic bulb is now being transferred to the flower. You still can harvest your garlic after the flower has ran its course, but the cloves will not have grown to full potential size.
Let the garlic scape grow until it curls around to make a loop. This is when you cut it or snap it off (by simply bending it to break it). This is the prime time to use it in various ways.
Once you have cut the garlic scape off the plant, the garlic bulb will continue its growing process.
So now your garlic has been growing since Fall and the leaves are thick and green, and the stalks are tall. You removed the garlic scapes and now have hopes for larger garlic. Well done!
Once your garlic has told you that it is nearing the end of its life (by producing the garlic scape), you can start the 3 week clock countdown to harvest. This is a very light-hearted timeline, but I have found it works just fine.
You should be in late June or early July by this time. Once your scapes are cut off the garlic stem, it will be about 3 weeks and your garlic leaves will begin to turn yellow at the tips and start to die off. When 3-4 leaves have died back completely, you can harvest your garlic. You may still have strong green leaves at the top, but if you wait until more than 1/3 of the leaves have died back, you take the chance of your garlic bulbs separating under the ground, providing the possibility of insect damage or bulb rot. It is good practice to pull one of the garlic bulbs up and check for the maturity level, damages, or any bulb splitting. If any of these are apparent, it is probably time to harvest the batch and take care of any problems occurring.
Review the images below for the next few steps.
Hang your garlic in a cool, dry, and shaded place with plenty of air flow for a day or so. You can use a fan in the garage if that works for you. Dry the dirt naturally and brush it off later. The image I show is the garlic hanging in the shade outside my greenhouse. It is a very windy spot and shaded most of the afternoon. At night, I will move it all into the greenhouse so that it does not soak in the overnight moisture in the air. Then I will put it back out the next day to continue drying in the wind. This is a daunting task with the large yield I have, but I am working with what I've got at the moment. Garage is taken by the cars!
After a day or so of drying, cut the leaves about 6-8 inches from the garlic bulb and trim the roots.
Make sure and check each garlic bulb for any damage or splitting of the bulbs. Peel off any leaves that have mildew spots on them. Peel back the first paper layer from the bulb so that you do not leave any damaged covering on the bulb. Aim for a clean bulb. (see the before/after photo below).
Scrub the dirt off with a soft brush of some kind. The stem is a great handle. Brush as much dirt as you can from the bulb and from the remaining root area. You do not want to leave any debris if at all possible.
Lay your garlic on a drying rack for about 2-3 weeks. The garlic needs to be completely dry for storage. At the 2 week mark, cut the stem closer to the bulb and see if there is any moisture left. If there is, place the garlic back on the drying rack for another week. Check it each week. Larger hard neck garlic can take a little longer to dry.
Once there is no more moisture showing, store your garlic in a mesh bag where it will have plenty of air flow.
Something fun that I like to do before I bring all my garlic in for storage is to count how many cloves are in the bulb. You can see them from the outside. Each bulge is a clove of garlic. Fun to find the ones that have over 9 cloves!
Look up a recipe on how much salt to add to your garlic powder and you can have garlic salt.
If you do not like the actual garlic scape added in your foods, squeeze the garlic scape stem until all the garlic juice comes out. Store the juice in your refrigerator for cooking.
There is so much to do with garlic that I never knew. I started exploring recipes to add garlic to and found Chef John's Simple Garlic Shrimp amazing. Here is a page full of way to integrate your garlic into recipes. Make your own butter/garlic bread with spaghetti tonight!
The 2020 Garlic Fest in Chehalis, Washington, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. You can still check out the website (link below) to find facts about garlic you may not have known.
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2217 Sirkka Street ~ Centralia, Washington
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