Garlic has been used as both food and medicine since at least the 25th century BC, around the time that the pyramids were being constructed at Giza, Egypt. In his Ecologues, Virgil writes all about garlic being consumed by ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, and it is was grown in England by the mid-16th century. This is curious given the modern English attitude toward garlic. As late as 1997, Dr. D.G. Hessayon warned in his bestselling book, The Vegetable & Herb Expert:
If you are a beginner with garlic, you must use it very sparingly or you will be put off forever. Rub a wooden salad bowl with a clove before adding the ingredients…. And then you can try dropping a whole unskinned clove into a casserole or stew, removing it before serving. If by then you have lost a little of your garlic fear, you can try using crushed (not chopped) garlic in meat, etc. as the Continentals do.
(Here we are, eating the stuff raw! and spreading it on bread!)
Garlic is a perennial member of the onion family, Alliaceae, and is closely related to leeks, onions, shallots, and chives. All of these plants send up hollow, tubular (sometimes flattened) leaves from a bulb that grows below the ground. The leaves are followed by a flower stalk (scape), and then by the flower itself . Garlic may also produce “bulbils” – tiny bulbs that may begin to sprout, on the flower head. All parts of the garlic plant are edible, but the bulb is the most prized and useful in the kitchen.
The garlic bulb (or “head”) is an organ the plant uses to store food during adverse weather or over winter, when the leaves cannot photosynthesize. It is divided into numerous fleshy cloves, each wrapped in a papery husk, which should be removed prior to eating. Each clove, if planted in early spring or autumn, will produce a new head. If left to its own devices, garlic will eventually form a small clump as its bulbs spread over the years.
Softneck garlic is easy to grow in mild climates. Choose the hardneck varieties for areas where winters are severe. Softneck usually produces smaller, more numerous cloves per head, and it stores particularly well. Storing garlic is all about keeping it relatively warm and dry. This encourages the cloves to stay dormant (prevent them from sprouting).
Garlic is one of the most universally accepted culinary ingredients, appreciated around the world for its pungent flavour and its incredible versatility in complementing meat, vegetables, breads, and eggs. It is grown commercially all over the world, notably in China, where over 12 million tons are produced each year.
Aside from its diverse uses in the kitchen, garlic has long been appreciated as a medicine. It is known to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, but extensive scientific studies have shown conflicting results in humans. Garlic appears to play a role in reducing the accumulation of certain types of cholesterol, as well as regulating blood sugar levels in humans, but the actual processes are not well understood. In traditional herbal medicine, garlic has been used to fight parasites, prevent the common cold, and treat respiratory complaints. Rats fed on high protein diets supplemented with garlic showed increased levels of testosterone.
Eating garlic, of course, also causes bad breath. This fact did not escape early physicians, including Culpepper: “The offensiveness of the breath of him that hath eaten Garlick, will lead you by the nose to the knowledge thereof.” In Islamic tradition, eating garlic prior to attending the mosque is viewed as inappropriate. The odour of garlic (caused by complex sulfur compounds) may explain why it was held in such high regard in central European folklore as a ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires – and it really was used for this purpose, hung in the house, or rubbed around windows, chimneys, and keyholes.
However it is eaten, garlic is high in protein, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, as well as other beneficial nutrients. It can be eaten raw, cooked, preserved in oil, wine, or vinegar, and it forms a base for countless sauces and dips (hummous, pesto, aoli, vinaigrette, to name a few) which can then be kept fresh for days if refrigerated. Dried garlic can also be powdered and kept in an airtight container for up to a year or more. If substituting powdered garlic for fresh, 1/8 teaspoon = 1 fresh clove.
Garlic festivals are popular across Canada and around the world. Since 1999, the South Cariboo Garlic Festival has been held in 100 Mile House, B.C. The end of August sees a judged garlic cook-off, live music, craft fair, and much other garlic-related mayhem.
- Garlic Propagation: Propagating Garlic Cloves And Bulbs
- How to Propagate Garlic
- Grow and Save Garlic
- How to Grow Garlic
- How to Save Garlic
- How to grow garlic
- Great garlic varieties to grow
Garlic Propagation: Propagating Garlic Cloves And Bulbs
Garlic is a component to most international cuisines. The herb’s popularity is a testament to its powers and intoxicating flavor. Add a little garlic to almost any dish and it perks up perceptibly. Garlic plant propagation is a noteworthy pursuit for those of us who need our garlic fix. Fresh bulbs, scapes and leaves add punch or delicate notes, depending upon your desires. Learn how to propagate garlic for a garden fresh supply of this Allium plant year around.
How to Propagate Garlic
You know you want it. Garlic with its pungent, zesty flavor and intense aromatic properties is actually quite easy to grow. Choice of variety that is suitable for your growing zone and soil is the first concern when propagating garlic bulbs. Softneck varieties grow best in warm climates, while the hardneck types are more suited to cooler climes. For the indecisive gardener, the Asian species can perform well in either climate.
Planting Garlic Cloves
Fall is the best time to plant most garlic. In climates with longer growing seasons, you can plant in late winter to early spring as soon as all danger of frost has passed. Garlic plant propagation requires deeply cultivated beds with plenty of compost added in to enrich the soil and enhance drainage.
Dig trenches 1 inch deep and 2 inches wide. Keep trenches 6 inches apart and plant individual cloves at the same spacing. A single garlic bulb can yield up to eight plants. Separate the cloves, ensuring the papery covering is intact. Place each clove with the pointed top upright and cover the trenches with amended soil. Place several inches of mulch such as straw over the top of the beds.
Propagating Garlic Bulbs from Seed
Garlic seed is tiny and contained in the mature, dried flowers of the plants. Shake out the tiny black seeds and plant them immediately or save them in a cool, dry location until ready to plant. Growing the Allium from seed can be a frustrating process, as it takes much longer than plants established from cloves or bubils, and germination is capricious.
Plant seeds indoors in fall to early winter after a storage period of four weeks in the refrigerator to encourage germination. Use a good seed starting mixture and plant seeds in flats with ¼ inch soil covering them. They need to be in an area of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C.), covered to retain moisture and heat, and in a place with bright light after seedlings emerge.
Harden off seedlings before transplanting to prepared beds in spring. Propagating garlic cloves will result in edible bulbs in a few months as opposed to seeded garlic, which produces bulbs the following year.
Planting Garlic Bulbils
Another method of garlic plant propagation is through the use of bulbils. Bulbils are located in the scape of hardneck varieties or on the false neck of softneck species. They are small undivided bulbs that can function like seed. The advantages to using bulbils are their ability to prevent soil borne disease and their faster production.
Plant garlic bulbils 1 inch deep in fall, much the same way you would plant cloves. Care and cultivation is the same as bulb-planted garlic. Be careful not to weed out the tiny seedlings in spring, which will emerge looking much like common grass.
Leave the plants in the ground until the tops turn brown and then harvest. The resulting bulbs will be smaller than those you get when propagating from cloves but equally delicious and you can get many more from bulbils.
While most plants are planted in the spring for fall harvest, garlic is just the opposite. Usually, garlic is planted in the fall and harvested mid-summer the following year. Why is garlic so different? Because garlic is actually a perennial, that gardeners choose to grow as an annual. Garlic can be grown as a perennial in a permaculture garden, or as a unique edible addition to your perennial flower gardens.
Growing garlic as a perennial means less maintenance, year-round harvests and never buying seed garlic again.
Growing garlic as a perennial is pretty simple. Just plant garlic as you normally would in the fall, and then ignore it for a few years. Occasionally, that happens by accident. You intend to harvest garlic, but the stem snaps off or a bulb or two get forgotten in the ground.
The following year, each clove of that garlic plant will send up a new sprout. When you plant garlic, you plant individual cloves, but since these were never separated they’ll come up as dense patches of garlic shoots. After two or three years, a single garlic clove will have dozens of garlic shoots sprouting from a small patch of ground.
Individual stems can be pulled off the edges of this garlic mass at any point during the summer and eaten as green garlic. Normally, you can only get “green garlic” bulbs uncured at the farmers market for a few weeks a year. They have a milder flavor than cured garlic, and they taste a bit more like a vegetable. That’s because they haven’t been cured, which dried down the bulb and concentrates the flavor.
As the summer progresses, this patch of hard neck garlic will produce garlic scapes. We don’t grow the braid-able type of softneck garlic up here in Vermont, so I can’t speak to growing soft neck varieties as a perennial. The hardneck varieties have better flavor anyhow, and the only reason soft neck is sold in the grocery stores these days is due to the fact that it can be planted mechanically and is grown without bothering with garlic scapes.
When growing garlic at home, hardneck is the way to go. If you’re still confused about the difference between types of garlic,here’s a rundown on the difference between hardneck and softneck, and details on all of the 10 types of garlic you can grow at home.
Either way, I think a patch of garlic scapes coming out of the perennial flower bed fits in beautifully. If you’re not a gardener, you’d never know they weren’t some kind of exotic flower bud. And in essence, they are just like any other perennial flower bud.
Most people that grow enough garlic to supply their family all winter have trouble using up all the garlic scapes. There are countless garlic scape recipes, each trying to use up a huge surplus each year. We make garlic scape pickles, and a good bit of garlic scape pesto for the freezer each year. Still, using up a few hundred garlic scapes is near impossible. They’re cute at the farmers market, but that’s in tiny farmer’s market quantities. Once you’re growing a boatload of garlic, most of the scapes go to the pigs.
When you’re growing garlic as a perennial, the garlic scapes aren’t a problem. Harvest as many as you like, and just leave the rest. They’ll bud out, and pop into clusters of tiny baby garlic cloves hanging in the air.
Normally, garlic scapes are cut so that the garlic plant puts all its energy into forming a large bulb. The bulb mass at the bottom of these scapes don’t need any extra mass, so the scapes can do as they please.
In the fall, those garlic scape bulblets will dry down into miniature garlic cloves. These can be used just as you’d use any garlic clove, or they can be planted as seed garlic. In this way, you’ll have an unlimited supply of seed garlic produced right in your own perennial bed. Garlic plants grown from garlic bulblets may take a bit longer to mature, and can sometimes take an extra year to fully bulb out.
Garlic bulblets from unharvested garlic scapes, dried on the plant in the fall.
While these perennially grown green garlic will supply you from snowmelt through the end of fall, but what about the wintertime? For winter garlic, I pick out one of these clumps of perennial garlic each spring or fall and divide it up. A single bundle will have many individual garlic cloves, and once they’re divided out they’ll grow into full sized garlic bulbs for harvest the following July.
This clump of garlic was harvested in the spring, divided out into individual plants and then grown out as usual. Since it was spring planted garlic, it took a bit longer to mature, but was ready a few weeks after fall planted garlic would have been.
Simply use a shovel to dig up the whole clump, making sure there’s plenty of dirt intact around the root ball. Carefully separate the individual garlic plants, and plant them deep in fertile soil.
Since there’s already a green top growing from each garlic bulb, you’ll need to be careful not to damage them in planting. This patch of curing garlic will also need scapes cut to mature properly.
Perennial garlic divided into individual plants in the spring. This will allow for a crop of curing garlic for winter use.
The bulblets harvested from the garlic scapes are also great for planting. Those bulblets dry down just in time for fall, and then they can be fall planted just like regular seed garlic.
Either way, with spring divided garlic plants or fall planted bulblets, the harvest comes out just like any annual garlic planting.
In truth, the “cured” garlic for winter use is still being grown as an annual. In a milder climate, a secondary annual garlic plot might not be necessary, but up here in Vermont we have roughly 6 months of winter. It gets way too cold to dig garlic outdoors in February.
So why do I keep perennial garlic? Lots of reasons:
- I know I always have garlic that can be propagated if need be. If my annual patch has a crop failure, I have seed garlic here for the next year. It’s also handy in case of a zombie apocalypse.
- Perennial garlic patches are part of our permaculture pest control strategy. We plant a clove or two under trees and near fruit bushes, and then just ignore them. The tree mulch keeps the garlic mulched, and the garlic keeps away pests and trunk borers.
- It’s just plain pretty. Who needs fancy flowers when you can have a beautiful curl of garlic scapes in the perennial bed?
Grow and Save Garlic
How to Grow Garlic
This culinary staple is rarely propagated from seeds. Instead a few aromatic bulbs of garlic are saved from the harvest and replanted year after year.
Time of Planting
Plant garlic in the fall, usually between September 15 and November 30, after the first light frost of the year.
Keep bulbs intact until right before planting. Break bulbs into individual cloves and plant the largest, healthiest looking cloves with the basal plate – the point where the cloves attached to the bulb – down and the pointed shoot-end up, 6-8 inches apart. Cover with 2 inches of soil and a 6-inch layer of mulch.
Time to Germination
Cloves may begin to sprout through the mulch in 4-8 weeks, depending on the variety and the weather conditions in your region. Do not be concerned. The plants may suffer some frost or a light freeze and still survive the weather.
Garlic plants must be vernalized (overwintered) in order for their bulbs to develop. Do not remove mulch in the spring; it helps control weeds, preserve moisture and provides nutrients as it decomposes.
When garlic shoots begin to emerge in early spring, ensure even soil moisture by supplying 1 inch of water per week throughout the growing season. Garlic does not compete well with weeds so keep weeds under control early to ensure a bountiful harvest. Scapes are the curly flower stems that often form as the garlic matures. Cut or break them off after they are 10 inches long and reserve them for eating.
Common Pests and Diseases
Garlic can suffer damage from nematodes, botrytis rot, and white rot. However, the biggest threat to garlic is weeds. Keep your garlic bed clean and make sure to plant garlic in well-fertilized, loose soil.
When and How to Harvest
Harvest after 3 or 4 leaves have died back and there are still 5 or 6 green leaves remaining on the plant – sometime in June or July depending on the year and your climate. Do not wait too long or the bulbs will begin to separate in the ground. Loosen the soil with a shovel or pitchfork and then dig the garlic carefully. Do not pull the stalk or it will separate from the bulb. Gently brush most of the dirt off. Tie plants in a bundle of 6-8 plants and hang in a shaded, dry, well-ventilated shed or garage. Leave plants hanging for 4-6 weeks so that bulbs can cure.
Garlic is a good complement to many dishes, and is often used in stir-fries and Italian dishes.
After thoroughly drying, trim off the roots and cut the stalks off about 1 ½ inches from the bulb. Store in net bags. For optimum storage, hang in an area with 45-55 percent humidity and a temperature of 50-70 degrees F. Hold back your nicest bulbs for replanting.
How to Save Garlic
Garlic is vegetatively propagated rather than grown from seeds. To regrow garlic, keep bulbs intact until no more than 1-2 days before replanting, then simply pull apart garlic bulbs and plant individual cloves as described above. Some garlic varieties will produce seeds if scapes are not removed from the plants, but these seeds will not be true to type.
How to grow garlic
To enjoy the freshest flavour and juiciest cloves, grow your own garlic. It takes up little space and requires hardly any effort to get great crops. Garlic simply needs a warm, sunny spot with well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet in winter.
More advice on growing garlic:
- Three ways to grow garlic
- The best garlic varieties to grow
- Tips for growing garlic in clay soil
- How to grow garlic in a container (video)
- Do garlic drenches deter slugs? (Video)
- How to cope with rust on garlic (video)
- How to harvest garlic bulbs (video)
Garlic simply needs a warm, sunny spot with well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet in winter. Planting garlic cloves
How to plant garlic
Garlic can be bought for both spring and autumn planting. To grow well, it needs a period of cold weather, so autumn planting is preferable. If you have heavy clay soil, however, it’s best to wait until spring. This type of soil tends to hold a lot of water, especially over winter, which can cause the garlic cloves to rot.
To plant the garlic, split the bulbs into individual cloves and plant them with the pointed end upwards. Take care not to damage the cloves when separating. Space them about 18cm apart and plant at twice their own depth.
Alternatively, start garlic off by planting cloves singly in module trays in autumn. These can be planted out in spring. If short of space, try growing garlic in containers.
If you garden on clay soil, or a soil inclined to be wet in winter, grow garlic on mounds, 15cm tall and 20cm wide at the base. Plant the cloves in them, 15-20cm apart and 7-10cm deep. The results are usually great, even in very wet weathers.
How to care for garlic plants
Garlic needs little care. Weed between plants to reduce the competition for water and space. Don’t panic if the plants produce flowers, because you should still get a crop – it’ll just be reduced in size. You can also eat the flowers, which have a delicious flavour.
How to harvest garlic
Harvest garlic in summer when the leaves turn yellow. In the run up, prepare plants for harvesting by scraping away some of the surrounding soil so sun and air can reach the bulbs and help to dry them out. After preparing, gently lift out bulbs with a fork or trowel.
Watch Monty Don’s video guide to harvesting garlic:
How to store garlic
Hang bulbs in net bags. Take care not to bruise the bulbs, as any damage can make them deteriorate in storage. Once dry you can either store the bulbs loose or plait their foliage to make a traditional string of bulbs.
How to prepare and use garlic
Crush, slice or finely chop, or roast cloves whole, to add flavour to many dishes.
Watch this 20-second video demonstration from our friends at olive magazine on how to chop and crush garlic.
Garlic: problem solving
Garlic is generally pest free. Garlic can be affected by leek rust, a fungal infection that is more common in wet weather. The garlic bulbs are perfectly safe to eat but affected plants should be harvested immediately to prevent the disease spreading.
Monty Don’s video guide to dealing with rust on garlic:
Can you plant supermarket garlic?
It is possible to grow garlic from supermarket bulbs, but it’s not recommended as there’s a risk of virus infection. If you buy from proper planting stock, it should be virus free. And you can also choose a variety that has been bred especially for our climate.
Preparing garlic plait
Great garlic varieties to grow
- ‘Albigensian Wight’ – a heavy cropping, soft-neck variety with large bulbs
- ‘Blanco Veneto’ (‘Venetian Wight’) – forms large bulbs with a strong flavour
- ‘Early Purple Wight’ – mild, purple-tinged bulbs
- ‘Iberian Wight’ – produces large bulbs with plump cloves, good to plait
- ‘Solent Wight’ – small bulbs with a strong flavour, stores well
Propagating garlic is amazing! Garlic is one of those amazing plants that once purchased, you may never have to buy another clove again! Why? You ask? Because this is a plant that regrows itself from cuttings or cloves. Seriously! Next time you’re adding a delicious infusion to your baking, keep an extra clove. You’ll have home-grown garlic before you know it.
Before you sow your cloves, you have to decide what type of climate you have to work with? Are you planting your garlic on a window sill, or do you have a few rows of extra space to work with in your garden? Since it’s December, and I have more snow than I do gardening space, I’ve decided to plant on my kitchen windowsill.
Tip: If planting outdoors, it’s best to plant your garlic in the fall. But garlic does well planted outdoors in any other season, as well. It might take a little longer to harvest, but it is possible to grow it whenever!
It’s important to separate your cloves prior to planting (keep the papery protection on them, though) and it’s even more important to give your garlic enough room to grow. Typically, I’ve grown two cloves each in 6 inch terra cotta pots. I’ve only had to transplant my crop once throughout the years, so I think I’m doing pretty well! 😉
With the pointy end facing upward, plant your cloves in rich soil. Make sure the pointy end is facing upwards, or your garlic will grow in the wrong direction.
Immediately after planting, give your plants a hearty watering, but then only water it about once weekly after that. Depending on the temperature of your home, or your region, you may find that you need to water more often. Use your best judgement, and discontinue water usage when you near the harvest date.
It’s time to harvest when you notice the tops of the greens turning yellow. When your tops start to slump and become discolored, it’s time to harvest your plants. Use a fork, or a small rake, to dig into the soil, and lift them up by the garlic root.
Plants grown indoors will be less susceptible to pests and diseases, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. Keep an eye out for areas of white rot.
White rot is a fungus that will kill your existing garlic, and will infect your soil for years to come. If you suspect your plants have fallen ill, it’s best to remove and recplace the soil. If you suspect white rot, throw away your plant, and replace the soil it grew in.
Purchase specialized garlic cloves at Garden Hills Nursery.