As we transition to shorter daylight hours and the cooler nights of autumn it is time to clean up our gardens and begin thinking of next year’s growing season.
One of the most popular fall planting crops is garlic. It is a vegetable in the Allium or onion genus and is recognized for its high nutrient value, versatility in cooking and resistance to diseases and pests. It originates from Asia and is grown around the world.
California produces the most garlic in the US. The annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California attracts over 100,000 people every year. You can smell garlic as you drive through the town and purchase garlic ice cream if it suits your taste.
China produces close to 2/3 of the world’s garlic — 46 billion pounds — and there is a chance that your grocery store garlic could be from China. Garlic is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is consumed by people around the world, and an important flavor in many cuisines.
So how do we grow our own fresh version of this fragrant, flavorful and nutritious vegetable?
Here are a few important tips for growing garlic:
1. Late September to mid-October is the best time to get garlic cloves in the ground. Be sure to choose a sunny location and amend the soil with compost. The soil compost mix should be loosened to a depth of about 6 inches. This will help bulbs to fully mature.
2. Purchase garlic from a local garden center or, better yet, from a local farmer who grows it. This will ensure that it is a variety suitable for the area. There are two classes: hardneck and softneck and several varieties of each. Generally, hardneck is the preferred choice in northeast Pennsylvania.
Grocery store garlic is not generally recommended as a seed source. As I mentioned before, most of the garlic in stores comes from China or California. It is grown in a climate warmer than here in NEPA and tends to be of the softneck variety. The garlic may not adapt to the cooler conditions here. Additionally, garlic in the grocery store may have been stored for over a year so it may be very dry and struggle to grow.
3. Separate the cloves from the bulb as you would for cooking. The larger the clove, the larger the bulb it will produce at maturity. Leave the paper skin on the clove when planting.
4. Plant your cloves root side down and upright. Cloves should be spaced about 4 to 8 inches apart and should be covered with at least 2 inches of loose soil. You can then cover with any mulch material available.
5. The garlic stalk will poke through in the spring (usually quite early) and you can remove the covering. Keep the garlic evenly watered and you will be ready to harvest by about mid-July.
I do want to mention a couple of points that are important. I do not plant garlic in the same bed every year for two reasons: Garlic is a heavy soil nutrient feeder and I like to let the soil replenish itself and it helps to prevent the diseases that may affect my garlic. I have plenty of space so I can rotate the crop quite easily.
I just finished planting next years crop of 42 potential bulbs for next July’s harvest. Plenty of garlic to season whatever food I choose!
Garlic is one of my favorite garden plants and there is nothing like the smell of freshly picked garlic and the cooking fragrance it produces in the kitchen.
You can find more information on growing garlic through the Penn State Extension website at extension.psu.edu/growing-garlic-fall-planting. Get that garlic in the ground now and enjoy the benefits of your own harvest.
Penn State Extension is dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses and communities. They partner with and are funded by federal, state and county governments. For more information on what they’re doing in Lackawanna County, visit extension.psu.edu/lackawanna-county.