December 4, 2021 - Garlic
For the highest yields in our Zone 5 Central Illinois climate, garlic should be planted in late fall, at least two to three weeks before the ground freezes. In the fall of 2020, we planted Chesnok Red, Pehoski Purple, Rose de Lautrec, Music and Montana Giant garlic varieties, and harvested in May 2021.
ng, like most other ventures (and, especially when growing a new crop), there is always a learning curve.
When planting garlic, you typically buy "seed garlic." One thing I would have done differently is pay a bit more to purchase larger garlic bulbs, as they will, of course turn into larger bulbs at harvest. When buying your seed garlic on a website, you will select the variety, and then will have the option of purchasing larger bulbs or not-as-large bulbs. Our first year of growing garlic I bought the medium-sized bulbs. This year I ordered some of the same varieties again, but in a larger size. The newly received bulbs were MUCH larger that what we planted last year. My reasoning for purchasing the medium-sized garlic was that I would get a larger quantity to plant, since garlic is often sold by weight. However, I definitely will be purchasing larger seed garlic into the future.
We ideally would have planted in November rather than early December; however, were not able to plant then due to wet, muddy soil conditions. Fortunately, the extended forecast called for warm weather into December. I checked the garlic towards the end of the month, and the new planting did show root growth so next spring’s crop should be fine.
There are hundreds of garlic varieties, each with slightly different characteristics. Picking out the different types to plant if part of the fun, and some are particularly pretty, unlike what we are used to buying at the grocery store. Chesnok Red, Pehoski Purple, Rose de Lautrec,
Music, German Extra Hardy and Montana Giant are Porcelain types, which are typically known for large size, hardiness, and rich flavor. Chesnok Red and Pehoski Purple are Purple Stripe varieties. Purple stripe garlic typically produce beautiful plants with purple stripes or splotches on their skins and wrappers. Rose de Lautrec and Spanish Roja are Creole garlics. Creoles originated in Spain, and are known for wonderful taste and long storage. Brown Saxon is a Rocambole variety. Rocambole garlics are usually large with loose skins that can be easily removed. The loose skins make food preparation easier, but it also reduces the garlic's shelf life.
Elephant "garlic" actually is not a garlic at all, but a leek. However, Elephant "garlic" is commonly referred to as a garlic, and is grown and harvested like garlic. Elephant garlic can grow quite large, with a white or yellow skin with four or five large cloves. A whole elephant garlic bulb can grow up to five inches across and weigh a pound.
To plant garlic the cloves of the whole bulb should be separated, and the skins left intact as much as possible. Before planting most growers till the soil so the cloves can be easily pressed into the ground. However, garlic can be planted no-till.
We tilled an area that was in tomatoes last year. We then planted the cloves in narrow rows approximately six inches apart. The cloves should be inserted about two inches deep into loose soil, with a spacing of six to nine inches. Garlic can be planted by machine, but we plant ours by hand because we do not currently grow enough to justify the purchase of a garlic planter. With a little practice, the planting can go pretty quickly. Also, we always separate the cloves inside, and keep the different varieties separated in different containers. This allows us to more quickly put the cloves into the ground without separating the cloves in the field.
We cover our garlic with four to six inches of straw after planting. The straw helps protect the young garlic from cold temperatures; however, many people don’t cover with straw and their garlic does fine. To me, the greatest benefit is that garlic will grow through the straw in the spring, but most weeds don’t. This year we had very few weeds around the garlic, and what did come through were easily pulled. The straw also retains moisture in the soil, so if there is a dry spring the plants will typically do better.
When the temperatures warm in the spring the young garlic will rapidly take off, and is typically ready to harvest in May or June. When a few leaves begin to brown, the garlic is nearing maturity.
As winter comes to a close and spring begins, we will post an update!