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Details of Growing Garlic:
feed ’em, weed ’em, give ’em space
- Prepare a nitrogen-rich well-groomed seedbed of rich compost or composted manure.
- Three to four weeks before the ground freezes, break the bulb into individual cloves; choose the biggest unblemished ones for planting. In Central Maine, this is usually late October to early November.
- Plant cloves pointed side up about 3" deep, and 6-10" apart. Mulch with 4-6" of hay, leaves or straw. Some folks skip the mulch but plant 4-5" deep.
- Garlic is a heavy feeder, and giving more space between cloves generally yields larger bulbs.
- In spring, move the mulch away from the emerging tips to free up any spears struggling to get through, then replace it close in to keep even moisture levels and to help prevent weeds. Garlic does not compete well with weeds.
- Top dress or foliar feed, and provide adequate and even moisture while growing, to encourage larger bulbs to form.
- Cut off the “flower” stalks, known as scapes, from hardnecks before they uncurl and stand up straight; eat them, compost them, or dry them for winter arrangements. If you leave them on, the bulbs will be smaller. Harvest the top-set bulbils to eat or plant them in fall for fresh greens the next spring or new full-size bulbs in two years.
- Maintain even moisture levels during the season. Except for Porcelain types, allow the soil to dry beginning about a week before harvest. Keep Porcelains moist until harvest.
- Poke around a few garlic bulbs in late July or early August to check growth when bottom leaves are yellow or 5-6 leaves are still green. Harvest before cloves begin to separate. Use a fork to loosen the soil and lift gently.
- Tie hardnecks in bundles of 6-12 plants, and hang to cure in a 60-80° well-ventilated place, protected from both sun and rain, until dry. You may need fans or a dehumidifier in a very wet season. Do not field-cure in New England, as it is often too cool and/or too wet. Softneck types may be braided after curing.
- Trim roots, trim tops to within 1" of the bulb, clean, store in a cool dry place, then enjoy.
Blue-Ribbon Garlic Growing Tips
- Big bulbs need space for roots, high levels of nitrogen, sufficient trace minerals, and consistent moisture levels.
- The roots of garlic spread 3-4" on either side of the bulb. Plant the cloves 10" apart to optimize root growth and nutrient uptake. Space rows 1' apart. Push individual cloves down about 1½", so the tip of the clove is just at the soil surface.
- Cover the bed with 2-3" of well-rotted compost. Then add nitrogen sources such as a heavy application of composted manure, or a mix of either alfalfa meal (3#/100 sq ft) or fish meal (3#/100 sq ft) with soybean meal (5#/100 sq ft). Fish and alfalfa meals feed the fall root growth; the soybean meal breaks down slowly and is available the following spring.
- Azomite (2#/100 sq ft) supplies trace minerals critical to increasing the overall size of the bulbs. Kelp meal (1#/100 sq ft) is an option which supplies even more minerals.
- Mulch provides protection from frost heaving, and weed protection and moisture regulation in summer. Apply mulch after fall planting, and leave mulch on throughout the spring and summer.
- Water crop during prolonged dry spells.
- In mid-June, just as the garlic begins to form heads, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of blood meal around each stalk, to give a charge of nitrogen just when it is needed.