Growing garlic is easy. I have been growing garlic in the Colorado high country for over 20 years and planting between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1 (and no later) gets me the biggest and best garlic bulbs the following summer.
Every gardener that I have talked to that has followed the Oct. 1 date to plant has had the best results. It’s a year-round process that starts with planting in the fall, harvesting some spring garlic, cutting and cooking the garlic scapes in the summer, then harvesting full-grown garlic in the later part of summer — and repeat.
There are basically two kinds of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The hardneck variety has bigger cloves, is spicier, but stores for a shorter time, about three to five months. The beautiful braids of garlic that you might see are softneck, which has smaller cloves, is milder and stores for about six to eight months.
Get your bulbs from a reliable source. Most independent garden centers will have garlic bulbs for sale in September. You can buy them online, but may not receive them to get them in the ground on time. Shop as soon as they come in to get the biggest and best bulbs. Don’t wait. They are expensive, but next year you will save some of your harvest to plant back in. You may have to visit several garden shops and hardware stores to get all that you need, but it is worth it.
Plant garlic by Oct. 1, but choose your site and get the soil ready now. It likes full sun, so choose a site that allows the ground to be fully exposed to sun throughout the winter. Our soils are full of clay and shale, so it’s best to add some organic material (mushroom compost, home compost, purchased garden soil) — anything to allow for good drainage.
Separate the cloves and organize them by size. The larger cloves can be harvested in the late summer for full garlic and the smaller cloves can be harvested in the spring for smaller bulbs. Leave garlic bulbs intact until you are ready to plant, then break into cloves. Leave paper coverings on cloves. Plant in rows, 4-6 inches apart. Plant with pointy end up, root plate down and cover with 2-4 inches of soil depending on bulb size and your elevation. Roots will grow before winter.
Heavily mulch with straw. A good 4-inch layer of straw mulch will help mitigate weeds and keep the soil temperatures even as well to avoid frost heaving. In the spring when scapes appear on your hardneck garlic, cut them off once they come up and bend before they straighten back up. Eat and enjoy them as they are a spring delicacy. Harvest when leaves are 50 percent brown and you have withheld water for about five days to allow papery covering to dry well.
If you are unsure that your garlic is ready, you can brush the soil away from one of the bulbs by hand to check the size and readiness of your bulbs. Use a spading fork to loosen the soil about 3 inches from the bulb and tip the bulbs up from underneath. Shake off soil and put in well ventilated, cool, dry place to cure for several weeks. After the bulbs have cured (have the papery cover), remove the brown foliage and cut the roots; use a soft brush if further cleaning is needed.
I recommend roasting your garlic to get the full, pure flavor. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, slice off the top of the head of garlic, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil and place in a shallow dish. Roast until golden and soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze out the garlic cloves and use on everything.
Fermentation classes: There is one class left on Sept. 11 (dairy). The class is from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Extension Office and the cost is $25. Call 264-5931 to sign up.