It’s a good thing it grows so well, too, because at my house, we LOVE garlic. It’s a key player in nearly every recipe and is amazing how often a “ruined” dish is “saved” by adding just a bit of garlic. A wonderful kitchen helper and great in the garden! If you have a little patch of sunny garden, give it a try! Here’s how easy it is.
Prepare your soil. I’ve grown garlic in pots, garden boxes, and directly in the soil. My best results come from planting in soil, probably because we have very hot summers and the pots and garden boxes don’t retain enough water. I’m in central Texas which is zone 8a, so Grandpa always said to plant garlic between Labor Day and Halloween (the earlier, the better). This year, I chose a spot between the raised beds and the birdbath in the backyard, I pulled all the weeds, and mixed in a healthy load of homemade compost.
Just push into the soil and presto! Perfectly spaced planting holes, about three inches deep and three inches apart. If you don’t have a planter-ma-jigger, poke holes in the soil with a pencil or stick.
Now it’s time to prep your seed garlic. I like the different varieties I can order online from any number of sources, but you can use organic garlic from the farmers’ market too. Don’t use the kind at the grocery store, because it’s usually sprayed with chemicals and stuff that keeps it from sprouting. Below is the Chesnok Red and Basque Turban I planted just last week.
Then pop the cloves off at the base and get ready to plant. Note: don’t plant the tiniest cloves as the tiny cloves will likely produce tiny crops! That's not what we are looking for! Save those little guys for cooking or adding to a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
You’ll just need to push one clove into each of the little holes you made. Be sure you’re planting them right side up, like in the image below. Each individual clove will grow into an entire head of garlic! Don’t worry if you think you’ll end up with too much garlic (is that even possible?). It’s easy to freeze it for future recipes.
Now all you need to do is just spread a half in or so of soil over the top to cover them - or cover them with the same amount of compost as I usually do, pat down gently, water them a bit, and wait. I like to give them a drink of a diluted compost tea fertilizer in a day or so, just to start’em off right.
After a week or so, you’ll see them sprouting (See Photo below, top right - and yes, *cough* that is them, among the weeds *cough*). Now it’s time to do something that seems counter intuitive – I’m going to recommend that you cover the entire area with straw, hay, or loose grass clippings, just as I did in the photo below, bottom left.
Why on earth would we do that? If you’ve ever had garlic sprout on your counter, you know it will grow under the toughest conditions. The straw insulates the ground, keeps the soil moist, and prevents the weeds from growing. Don't worry, that garlic will grow right through the straw, and the weeds won’t. The proof is in the photo below, bottom right.
The garlic will grow all through the winter and spring and will be ready to harvest anytime from late May right on into July.
Let’s take a look at the garlic patch so you know what to look for.
Your first clue are these little squiggles (below left). These are garlic scapes, and will become flowers if allowed to grow.
Since we want the garlic to keep all its energy in the bulb (and not spend time growing flowers), we’re going to cut off the scapes. Use them like chives to give a gentle garlic flavor to scrambled eggs or stir-fry.
Next, you’re going to keep an eye on the leaves. When the bottom leaves start to turn brown, stop watering the garlic patch (below right). This is usually 2-3 weeks after you’ve cut off the scapes.
Your garlic will be ready to harvest about a week after that last watering.
As you can see in the photo below, garlic roots are deep and strong. They’ll hang on to the soil and the leaves will give way first, you can guarantee it.
I’ve had the best success with using a shovel or fork and reaching down between the rows to lift the bulbs out gently. Shake off the large clumps of dirt but don’t disturb the outer wrappers. I leave them outside on an old window screen, resting in the shade for one day (if it’s under 90F outside if it is too hot I take them right into the house) and then bring them in to complete the curing.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t wash them off! The moisture will make it much easier for fungus to get into the garlic and your crop will be ruined!
It’s sitting a few inches off the ground so it has good air circulation, and is inside the house and out of the hot summer sun. Before setting the garlic out to cure, dust off any chunks of dirt, just to keep it off the kitchen floor. Leave the roots and paper intact, and cut off the stems about halfway up.
Lay out the garlic in a single layer on the drying rack. It’s OK if the bulbs touch each other, but try not to pile one on top of another. Now just walk away! Let the garlic sit on the drying rack, out of the sun, for about 2 weeks. (Your kitchen will smell amazing during this time.)
Reserve several of the largest cloves to plant next year. Remember, the bigger cloves grow into bigger bulbs!
Your garlic will keep at room temperature for several months. If you’ve harvested more than you’ll use in that time, it freezes great. Congratulations! You’ve successfully planted your garlic crop and had a bountiful harvest. Way to go!
Now you have more garlic than you know what to do with, but you want to use it before it begins to sprout.
Good news! It’s easy to preserve fresh garlic by freezing it. Then you can use it in stir-fry, soups, Instant Pot recipes – shoot, in just about anything you can think of.
I was going to end this post here but my wife suggested that I include the steps we use to freeze our garlic. So if you want to know how to freeze your garlic for using it later then read on!
Step 1. Peel massive amounts of garlic. The fastest way to do this is to separate the cloves and place them into a large mason jar. Put on the lid and shake, shake, shake. Warning: this will cause your children and/or grandchildren to dissolve into hysterical laughter–but it really works!
Step 2. Put peeled cloves into your chopper-ma-jigger, I use a small food processor. Then I pulse until the garlic is the desired texture. I left mine at a fine dice, since you can always make it smaller but you can’t ever make it bigger again.
Step 3. Scoop the garlic into a bowl, add olive oil, and stir gently. Use a little less than 2 tablespoons of oil for each cup of chopped garlic. More oil is not better!
Step 4. Using a tablespoon or regular spoon, plop scoops of garlic onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. You can see (in the photos below) that the first scoops are better formed and the ones at the end look pretty sloppy. This is because there’s too much olive oil left in the bowl and the garlic doesn’t keep its shape as well.
Step 6. After a few hours, your garlic will be frozen into tidy little pucks. Place them in a zip bag and store in the freezer. A 1-Tablespoon scoop is roughly equivalent to 3 cloves of garlic.
Friends, I have not even mentioned that garlic is incredible healthy for us and that we should all be eating more garlic. I mean, com on, who doesn’t love the tantalizing fragrance of garlic? Those who appreciate this savory bulb have tasted it in seasonings, spreads, dips, rubs, oils, cheeses, soups, roasts, and salad dressings… Listing the culinary credits could take a while.
But conventional wisdom regarding garlic goes far beyond its use in the kitchen. Researchers have tested it and have not been disappointed with its proven power as a natural preventive for numerous diseases and illnesses including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, bacterial and fungal infections, and the common cold.