Contemplating growing your own super fresh garlic? Here are a few garlic tips, particularly helpful for first timers.
While a handful of fast growing varieties may be planted in the spring time in areas with longer growing seasons, fall is generally the preferred planting time. In cold areas, plant 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes to allow time for roots to develop but not enough time for top growth to sprout. In warmer areas, planting anytime from October through January is fine.
Cook with less
When cooking, use less homegrown garlic than recipes call for, unless you want a stronger garlic presence in the final dish. Fresh (really fresh!) garlic tends to be more powerful than grocery store garlic.
Snip seed heads
Clip off the seed heads that hardneck garlics develop to encourage larger heads to form underground. The seed heads can be trimmed when they begin to curl. Save the cuttings, stem them and dot with butter before serving or add them to stir fries.
When to harvest
In summer, as your garlic bulbs mature, the foliage browns; this is your guide to harvest timing. When there are 5-6 green leaves still left on your plants, gently dig up one garlic bulb to check its progress. If the bulbs have developed skins around the individual cloves - great, they're ready. If not, leave the rest of the plants in the ground a few more days and then check another head. (And by all means use the test heads for cooking.) If left in the ground too long, some garlic variety heads will split, so keep an eye on them at this time of year
There aren't many opportunities in life to do something over again without penalties, but garlic may be one where this is possible. You'll trade a later season harvest for a wealth of first hand knowledge. One of our staffers tried growing garlic for the first time recently and didn't read up in advance. The resulting heads were small and the cloves were few. Rather than be disappointed she decided a "do over" was in order and broke up the just harvested heads to try again. First she enriched the soil and then replanted in a part of the garden that gets a little more water. Finally she'll make a point of being more attentive to harvest timing. It's going to be an outstanding crop!