Gearing up for Garlic

As we finish putting our summer beds to rest and harvest our fall greens, it’s time to start thinking about the first planting for next season: garlic.

This hardy crop, planted in the fall for an early summer harvest, is easy to grow in Mid-Missouri. Just follow these few simple steps.

Select your variety
Both hard-neck and soft-neck varieties can be grown in Missouri. Most garlic you would find at the supermarket is soft-neck, as it is easier to grow and keeps longer than hardneck varieties. Hardneck varieties, on the other hand, can withstand colder winter temperatures than softneck, and only the hardneck varieties produce scapes, the edible curling tops that resemble flower stems.

Garlic is grown from cloves, the individual pieces of the garlic bulb that are wrapped in a papery skin. While it may be tempting to plant the cloves you can buy at the local supermarket, it is best to use certified seed garlic (which should be free of disease), or cloves saved from garlic that has been grown locally and is adapted to the native climate. You can buy garlic bulbs from growers at the farmers’ markets from growers who save their own seed cloves, or order seed garlic from a reputable seed garlic supplier
(there are many online).

Planting
Garlic should be planted about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes to ensure good root growth before winter. In mid-Missouri, plant garlic anytime from mid-October to early November, right around the time of the first hard frost.

Separate individual cloves from the bulb, being careful to leave the papery skin covering the clove intact. Select the large, outer cloves with the biggest heads. Plant cloves in rows
about 6 inches apart, with about 6 inches between each clove. Put the root end down (pointy end up), in a hole or furrow about 1 inch deep. Cover loosely with topsoil about as deep as the garlic clove is tall. Cover beds with a 4 inch layer of loose mulch, such as straw or chopped leaves. This will protect the soil from extreme cold, conserve moisture and inhibit weeds.

Your garlic will probably send up green sprouts in the fall which die back after freezing temperatures take over. Not to worry; it should keep growing and you’ll see shoots again in early spring. In spring, you may need to water your garlic if the soil gets very dry.

soft-neck garlic

This soft-neck garlic is starting to have a few dead lower leaves but is not ready for harvest yet.

Harvesting and Curing
In early summer, garlic plants will start drying out and the leaves will yellow. After about half of the leaves have died back, use a spade or shovel to loosen the soil and gently uproot the bulb. After harvest, cure the garlic with the leaves still attached by spreading the whole plants on newspapers, or tying a half-dozen stalks together and hanging them to dry in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight. After two to three weeks, the skins will be papery and the bulbs will be ready for storage in a cool, dark place like a basement or heated garage; 44-5 is an optimal temperature range. Never store garlic in the refrigerator, as the cold temperature will cause the cloves to sprout.