Introduction: Garlic Gardening

Garlic gardening is addictive. It should only be attempted by those who are aware of its ability to overwhelm them. Once bitten by the garlic bug, there is no return to your previous normal. This is your warning. Continue reading and you may end up like me. Caught up in the perpetual planting and harvesting cycle I've been in for the past 17 years. You have been warned.


To begin your odyssey, all you really need is a head of garlic and a shovel.

I've been at it for a while so I have a few other tools of the trade. They are as follows:

Tractor with a 5' rototiller


Rolls of 4' landscape fabric

Piece of plywood for a planting template

piezoelectric propane torch

Basket for carrying cloves while planting

Bagging lawn mower for mulching

Snips for trimming roots and stems

Vented stacking bins for drying and storage

Scale if selling by the pound

Extruded mesh for bagging if selling

Step 1: The Rototiller

A rototiller is an amazing tool. It's blades spin at 540rpm and turn soil into a soft planting bed. Pushing garlic cloves into the prepared soil is almost effortless. If you don't count the crouching position your required to be in during the planting phase.

Step 2: Row #1

I till the row, then rake a small trench to hold the landscape fabric.

Step 3: Roll and Anchor

I roll out a bit at a time and anchor it down with dirt.

Step 4: Cut and Anchor

I cut the roll free and bury the end. That's one row down.

Step 5: Repeat the Process

I add a few more rows.

Step 6: Holes

Now for the holes. Lots of holes.

Step 7: Spacing

I've used this spacing for years. I find it gives enough room for each head to thrive, without wasting garden space.The sticks on the template are for lining up the next set of rows.

Step 8: Melting Holes

Melting holes is fairly simple. Simply place the template, step on it, and pull the trigger. The board only protects the covered fabric if you are quick on the trigger. Voids under the template can be problematic as well, so plant your foot well to hold the board tightly to the ground. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

Step 9: A Job Well Done

This is when looking back gives one a sense of accomplishment.

Step 10: Cracking the Seed

OK now comes the garlic seed. A head of garlic has multiple cloves. You only plant one per hole. This is when we get comfortable. No more bending, kneeling, sweating etc. It is hard on the hands though. We only crack a 1/4 bushel each, then plant it. This way we get a change of scenery and take a break between jobs.

Step 11: This Is How We Do It

When cracking the heads, we try to keep the skins on the cloves.

Step 12: Check for Undesirables

Certain cloves get turned down. The base of the clove tells us if we want to plant it or not. In these pics you can see that these are actually multiple cloves. They are twins and triplets in the same wrapper. These will grow multiple heads of garlic in the same hole. They will be distorted because there won't be enough room around them.

Step 13: Does It Really Matter

This is what happens when multiple heads grow in the same space. The garlic is perfectly fine. That said, most people would dig through when picking the ones they want and avoid these. We try our best to sort them out rather than plant them.

Step 14: Is This OK

This happens some times. A clove that almost became a twin. We plant these with no trouble. We plant what we crack the day we crack it. They may be OK but once they have their skin removed, its best to get them in the ground.

Step 15: Planting

With two baskets cracked, its off to the garden. You put a clove in each hole. They go in the ground pointy end up. This allows the stem to easily sprout without twisting. The less effort spent trying to find the light the better. That energy is better spent on the root system. Push the clove into the soil and swirl your finger around the hole to cover the entry point. Repeat this process over and over and over and...............

Step 16: Mulch

I use grass clippings to mulch with. They rot down and feed the garden while also holding moisture in. I am an organic gardener. My lawns and pastures have never been sprayed. Do not do this if you spray your lawn!!!!

Step 17: Mulch, Mulch, and More Mulch

It takes a while to get the whole garden mulched. Most years I am able to get it done before winter hits. If winter comes early its no problem, spring is on the way.

Step 18: Fall Sprouting

Within a few weeks, sprouting begins. There will be holes that don't sprout as quickly, not to worry though. If you put a clove in the hole, it will sprout. If not in the fall, then it will next spring.

Step 19: Winter

Winter doesn't bother the crop at all. It gets nestled under a blanket of snow waiting for warmer weather.

Step 20: Spring

Come spring the mulch has rotted down considerably. As soon as cutting time returns, a new layer will be welcome. Before that happens, weeding needs to be done. Early April it begins. When most gardeners are months away from diving into the soil, garlic gardeners are already into it. This is when you realize the value of landscape fabric. Without it, weeding is insane.

Step 21: May and June

Here is a shot of both early May and then early June

Step 22: I Love June

June is when garlic is at it's most beautiful. This is when you want to bring visitors into the garden and share the view.

Step 23: Scapes

The garlic plant has a flower. It feeds off of the bulb. Within the flower, a large number of seeds develop. Different varieties develop a different number of seeds, from 20 to as high as 200 or more. If you let them grow you will have a very small head of garlic. We pick the sprouting stems as they begin to develop. They are called scapes, and they taste great!

Step 24: Pick the Scapes

Garlic scapes are picked in mid June. They don't all grow at the same time though. I spend a few weeks picking them. They snap off fairly easily. I haven't found a reliable outlet for the crop so I take them off as soon as they emerge. Once the flower pod has enough stem below it for me to grab, I give them a snap.

Check out my Instructable for a great recipe for using scapes.

Step 25: July

July is harvest month. Of course it is! It can be incredibly hot and incredibly humid. Usually dry, so your not mucking about in the garden. I find harvesting is a morning job, but with this large of a crop, it can stretch into the hotter part of the day.

Step 26: When to Harvest

Harvest is something that has to be done before the plant dies down (in my opinion). As the leaves of the plant die, the wrappers on the garlic bulb deteriorate as well. When the leaves are all gone, so are most of the wrappers. When that happens the head gets dirt inside. This can start rot and mold. Its best if the head is covered with skins. If picked to early the bulb may not dry as easily because two many wet wrappers encircle it. The drying of the plants depend on the weather. I try to begin when most of the plants are at the earliest stage of acceptability. By the time I get to the end, some have passed prime. When I'm digging, my wife is cleaning and placing the harvest in a shady spot. It can take us a week or more to get done harvesting.

Step 27: Uncover a Row

The fabric has done a wonderful job of keeping the weeds down. The spacing allows my feet to fit between the rows while I lift the fabric. I do this as carefully as I can. I don't want to rip the holes. I want to reuse the fabric for a few more years. I can usually get three seasons out of it before it deteriorates.

Step 28: Success and Failure

Here are a few examples of fabric removal. Success and failure. I roll up the good ones for fall planting and discard the ripped ones. These are not the fabrics that were laid at the beginning of this instructable. They are many years old. This was the harvest that took place previous to starting this instructable. I decided to start with all new fabric after this harvest, because most of it was destroyed after three years of use. A perfect chance to start documenting from the beginning.

Step 29: The Dig

When digging, make sure to start far enough back, and at an angle that won't hit the bulb. The mulch and fabric have kept the soil fairly moist. Step the shovel in and pull back lifting the soil and bulb loose. Don't lift it completely, just enough that it can be removed by lifting on the stem. Soil types differ so this will be dependent on each persons garden.

Step 30: From 5 Rows to 3

I go down one side of the row an back up the other before I begin pulling them up and brushing them off.

Step 31: From 2 to 0

I take the last two rows out at the same time. 4 passes to remove all 5 rows.

Step 32: Don't Look Up

At the beginning, its a good idea not to look up. After digging out two rows, 5 heads wide, looking at how far you still have to go, is rather painful. I'm ready for a break.

Step 33: All Done Digging

As you can see, weeding took a back seat after the stalks took off. The soil under the fabric was weed free so digging was as easy as digging can be.

Step 34: One Tough Hat

I was given a Tilley hat 10 years ago. When my friend Hans passed away I inherited it. This has been an amazing hat. Guaranteed for life. Yes life! When it started to come apart, I packed it up and sent it in to see if the guarantee was real. I included a note praising my hat and asking that they send it back with the new one. They complied with my request. Out came the sewing machine and canvas cloth. I've been making Frankenstein fixes ever since and am treating my new hat much better that this one. Garlic gardening requires a good hat. If you don't mind spending the money, check out Tilley. No they didn't pay my to say this.

Step 35: Processing

When taking a break from digging, snipping in the shade is the job that comes next. I dig two rows then snip.

Step 36: Discard Stalks

I burn the stalks to avoid spreading disease and pests.

Step 37: Roots Up

Depending on whether I have help or not, I sometimes leave the roots for later. When I leave them on, I bin them roots up so they don't stay wet against the bulbs. When I didn't have vented bins I would bundle the entire plant in eight piece bundles and hang them to dry. That is a monumental task. I like the bins a lot more.

Step 38: Trimming

When time warrants, we sit in the shade and trim the roots away. Then we layer them in the bins, one row deep to cure.

Step 39: Curing

Curing is done in my shop. I let them dry for at least two weeks before cleaning them. To clean, you simply wipe off the dried dirt and the dirty layer of paper. They are ready to go after that.

Step 40: Weigh and Bag

I weigh and bag, 1lb bags in extruded mesh for sale to my clientele. My customers are garlic lovers, they come back every year. It's been an enjoyable hobby for me and they appreciate the quality of the product I supply them.

Step 41: Prepping to Braid

My garlic is called hard neck due to the stem that runs up the center. To braid, I slit the leaves and peel them back. Then I cut out the hard stalk

Step 42: Choose Nice Heads

I choose a nice group of similar sized heads.

Step 43: Lock the First

I lock the first head into place then as I braid, I add more.

Step 44: Keep Adding

It's a bit confusing at first, but you get the hang of it pretty quick.

Step 45: Thats All of Them

Try to keep them nice and even looking.

Step 46: Braid and Tie

Now braid the remaining leaves and then tie them.

Step 47: Let Them Dry

I leave them outside on the mesh table for a week or two to dry. They will mold if brought in to soon.

Step 48: Edible Decore

Hung in the kitchen, these look cool. Use them from the top down and they look good until they are done.

Step 49: Store in a Dry Place Out of the Sun

I store garlic in a dry place out of the sun. Bins in my shop. In a kitchen cupboard. As with my braids, hanging on the wall. Or, simply in a bowl on the counter.

Thanks for joining me on my garlic odyssey.

Comments and questions are welcome.

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