Garlic growing can be quite straightforward! We put cloves in the ground and they grow, we mulch for protection, moisture retention and weed management and we harvest and cure in a timely fashion. To produce top quality garlic you must be very attentive to the specifics inherent in these stages. For instance, if you let weeds encroach than your garlic will be smaller. If you do not harvest each variety at the correct time, you may have poor quality storage due to wrapper degradation. If you do not time management of leek moth with pheromone traps (or other forecasting techniques) you may have reduced and unmarketable bulbs.
How much seed garlic will I need?
1 to 12 lbs of garlic is enough to seed a plot for your average family’s needs. The quantity of seed needed depends on the varieties: Porcelain producing 5-7 times what is planted and Rocambole 8 to 12 times.
For instance, one bulb of Rocambole garlic cracked into individual seed cloves will produce 8 to 12 bulbs. Let's say you have 1 pound of seed garlic, a Rocambole (for this example), which has about 10 cloves per bulb, and 8 bulbs per pound, so 80 total cloves. Here is the math for a bed with 5 rows and 6” spacing in row:
EX: 80 cloves / 5 rows = 16 cloves per row / 2 cloves per row foot = 8 Bed Feet (one 8’ garden bed with 5 rows and cloves planted 6” apart)
Now, try this example. Lets say you have a 20’ garden bed x 5 rows = 100 row feet x 2 cloves per foot = 200 cloves/ 8 cloves per bulb = 25 bulbs / 8 bulbs per pound equals 3.1 pounds of seed needed.
See our descriptions of each variety for further ratios and details. A pound of garlic is about 5 to 10 bulbs depending on variety and the year’s productivity. We recommend planting your biggest cloves first. If you run out of space, just eat the little guys!
How much garlic do I need?
An acre requires about 40,000 cloves, approximately one per foot. Remember that often on a larger scale more space is used for weed management. Production of garlic as a row crop (more like corn or soy) as apposed to a bio-intensive crops (5+ rows per bed).
The best way to go: buying quality seed and slowly increasing your garlic seed stock over time. Commercial grow may wish to buy a larger quantity of seed and build up their stock faster to meet a growing demand. You can than either regenerate you own stock from bulbil every 5 years or re-purchase quality seed when needed.
What is the spacing to use?
We plant into raised beds with a 4 foot bed top. We plant 5 rows per bed and 6” between garlic seed pieces in-row. A general rule is to give about 6” to 9” of space around every clove piece. This means even x-large 2.5”+ diameter bulbs won’t bump against each other.
What varieties do we recommend?
All of our varieties (save the Creoles, Turbans and Asiatics) are suitable for production across Canada. Our Porcelains are better suited to colder and wetter conditions. Our Rocamboles do well in drier soils. Our Silverskins and Artichokes are the best for traditional braiding. Our various Purple Stripes offer the most colourful wrappers.
Can I plant eating (table) garlic?
Table garlic has been grow for fresh market sale and is not suitable for seed garlic. It has not been maintained to prevent the transfer of pests and disease. Also, depending on the location of its production, it may not be suitable to your climate. In addition, we must consider the reason for purchasing seed is often to meet a specific demand, knowing the name and character of your seed is important. Is it an early maturing, long storing, or particularly spicy garlic? Do not plant grocery store garlic. Also, beware of cheap table garlic sold as SEED. This is like a sweet corn seller on the side of the road deciding to leave some of his corn to dry down and sell it as seed, without ever intending it to be such, is it cross-pollinated with a different variety, did he monitor for seed-borne disease, etc?.
How many varieties should I grow?
This is partially dependent on your interest, your local demand and your seasonal operation. For starters different garlic have different attributes that may be desirable for your situation. Take maturity, for instance. Having an early maturing garlic will give you an edge at market. Having a late maturing garlic will spread out your harvest window, ensuring you don’t have too much garlic becoming over-mature in the field due to lack of time in end July. Our Spanish Roja is very early and our Kostyn’s Red Russian is quite late. Also, some garlic store better, some are hotter and other may braid best or produce really large roasting bulbs. All of these desirable characteristics are not found in one sole variety. It is a good idea to try a few types of garlic and see which perform best in your soil and climate, picking your favourites to grow more of in the future.
Can garlic be grown in raised beds, pots and balcony gardens?
Yes. First lets clarify the difference between a raised bed in the field and a wood-framed raised bed or container garden. We grow all our garlic in permanent raised beds in the field (our Permabeds are made from raising path material seasonally into the bed centre) which provide the garlic with ideal growing conditions: improved drainage, warmth, soil activity, etc. On the other hand you can also grow the garlic in containers or wood-framed beds. But you need to be aware that in these conditions the garlic is much more in need of your care for fertility, soil life and water. Make sure the beds are filled with good soil, compost and equipped with an irrigation system. Also, note that garlic does the majority of its growing before mid June and should not be grown in a place that receives spring shade! If your area experiences a spring drought consider field irrigation for the garlic plot.
Can you plant in spring?
You can plant in spring. However, we only sell for fall planting. We recommend fall planting because your garlic will be bigger as it has time before winter to develop roots. Fall planting avoids spring tillage and the beds are mulched over winter, this protects soil life and young garlic seed pieces from harsh winter cold and spring erosion.
My garlic sprouts before winter, is this a problem?
If green sprouts show through your mulch in the fall than they may be nipped back by frost. This will set the garlic back a bit since the plant has used energy towards production of green shoots that were lost. Garlic will put on between 2” to 3” of root growth before snow fall. This gives the clove piece a good grip to anchor it in the winter months and feeds fast growth in spring. Ideally, your garlic has good roots and no sprouts going into a severe winter.
We prepare our garlic beds around the time the garlic is mostly out of the ground (End July). We mow in a cover crop of buckwheat by August 1st and add compost to the bed top. We than prepare the bed and let it stale seed (encouraging weeds to grow) and pre-weed it several times with either tractor-mounted or hand-held weeding equipment. This gives us a fertile and weed free bed for October. If needed we will surface apply some compost and prepare an even seed bed for planting.
When to Plant Garlic
We plant our garlic in the first two weeks of October. We prefer fall planting as it encourages vigorous and healthy spring production. It also gives us a planting job at a time of the year when nothing is being planted and everything is being harvested and cleaned up. It is a real pleasure to take a break from filling our root cellar with 1000s of pounds of carrots, beets and potatoes to put some garlic in the chocolate soil of fall.
Prepping Cloves for Planting (Cracking the Garlic)
We crack our garlic bulbs by separating the mid-line of the inner bulb wrapper. Holding the bulb stalk with one hand and pulling it apart with the other hand by hooking the thumb in at the stem and finding the point of easiest division. CRACK! This divides the garlic in half. We than remove the individual cloves from the basal plate of the bulb. We look for a clean break away from this basal plate leaving a clean footprint where the new roots of the garlic clove will grow along the thickened edge of the clove base. Turn the garlic clove over and look at it's base, see the fresh fleshy foot, we want this to be exposed but not damaged. Don’t fuss if some of the basal plate is left attached to the clove’s foot, it is not a good idea to damage the clove flesh trying to remove this “corky” basal material as it can invite molds and disease to take root in your seed cloves.
Best to plant the largest of you cloves and eat smaller ones. Large cloves produce large bulbs and small cloves small bulbs, but both require the same management.
We use a dibbler behind a tractor to mark out 5 rows with 6” in-row spacing. You can also make a handheld dibbler out of a 50gal drum with wooden or metal dibbles. Our planting team comes along the paths with small pails of cloves, pushing one clove into each hole and covering it over with soil. We make sure to put the foot (the thick end) of the garlic down and give 1” to 2” soil cover over the pointy end. Bigger cloves need more coverage.
Mapping and Signage
We map our garlic beds and mark our rows (twice). It is very easy to loose track of your varieties. Not everybody will need to be so vigilant. But as a seed grower of immense garlic diversity, we pay particular attention. We put wooden stakes into the ground (with the variety written with a sharpie) at the front of the variety section. We also take a spiral notebook and make each row in the notebook a bed of garlic and mark it accordingly: variety, date planted, number of cloves seeded. Then in the spring we rewrite the names of the garlic on their stakes, as they fade over winter, using our notebook for reference if we cannot read it.
Mulching comes in many forms. You can mulch using any weed-free loose mulch medium. Popular options include hardwood leaves, pine needles, straw, hay, as well as biodegradable and permanent roll on mulches. Mulching helps regulate moisture, moderates soil temperatures and minimizes weed competition. Mulch can also help hold rain water in the root zone and reduce or prevent the need for irrigation. It is also a great way to get loads of organic matter into your soil. We put about 4” of weed-free second cut hay as our mulch. This hay also releases nitrogen to the plants.
Hardneck garlic produce a central stalk which eventually loops partially or many times and ends in a long spathe full of bulbils and underdeveloped flowers. We remove these scapes as soon as they make their first loop. We do so because it increases the bulb size since no energy is put to bulbil production. Scape removal also reduced leek moth entry points. Also, if you wait too long than your scape will become tough. If harvested early it is a delicious treat for your CSA, market and wholesale customers.
If you want to harvest bulbils from your garlic than leave the scape on chosen plants. Harvest and cure these separately so as not to commingle them with any soil-borne disease and pests that may be on your garlic bulbs. Part of producing seed garlic is reproducing your varieties from bulbil on a regular basis.
We don’t, unless there is a drought. We mulch! If you grow in raised container gardens or wooden-framed beds than I would recommend this as they dry out quickly. Irrigation in a drought can be critical. But remember, irrigating after the bulb is formed and the plant is drying down for harvest is improper management as it wets what we want dry.
Why do the garlic leaves go yellow?
They will yellow when maturing in July. Premature yellowing can be a sign of disease or insufficient water. Monitor your garlic and if something seems strange, pull out a plant and look at the bulb for signs of decay or bloating. Do not buy contaminated seed! Much Porcelain garlic in Ontario was and is infected with nefarious diseases like Bulb and Stem Nematode. Beware of this and eliminate it if you ever find symptoms. Dispose in trash bags and cull that variety of garlic from your production. Do not grow in that area again for at least 10 years.
Integrated Pest and Disease Management
Only plant good cloves, undamaged and from disease-free stock. Rotate garlic with a minimum of 3 years between other allium crops (onions, leeks, garlic). Rogue any suspect plants, stunted, yellowing, etc. Examine roots of suspicious plants for signs of disease. Put these in a plastic bag and dispose of as waste, not compost.
Managing Leek Moth
Rotate garlic and bury the previous years patch with bed reforming or plowing. Use pheromone traps to forecast the emergence of leek moth. They have three generation in Eastern Canada. Use row cover to prevent their movement and mating in spring. Use releases of parasitic wasps to prey on their eggs. Remove scapes in a timely fashion to mitigate entrance points. Use BTK on young larva to remove any problem areas. Watch and cull any bulbs with entrance wholes in stem or bulb from seed stock.