Gardening: Grow better Garlic

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail© 2015 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee  
Fresh Garlic Bulbs Drying

1.0 Fresh Garlic Bulbs Drying                     Photo 2014 by r.a.kukkee


Success with Garlic: Grow Better Garlic

If you're a back-yard, versatile gardener, it's a pretty fair guess you may already grow garlic in your vegetable-patch.  Not giving it a second thought, you may plant garlic in the spring, grow, harvest and use it all up.  Buy some more bulbs the following spring, perhaps even a different variety,  plant, and use it up, and repeat. Every year.  Why not?  With careful planning, your own garlic has greater potential. Garlic is good stuff, an ancient, tasty onion-like vegetable full of vitamins, natural antibiotics, and although it is pungent socially and may be very hot and spicy, it is healthy, valuable food. Now you can increase your chances of success growing garlic—grow better garlic, or eventually  perhaps even develop your own variety.  Yes, you can grow better garlic, improve the type, quality and the size of garlic you plant in your back-yard garden by using these growing tips.

Plant Garlic in Raised Garden Beds

Always plant garlic in raised beds if possible to do so, to optimize growth. Garlic needs water as other vegetables do, but  performs best in well-drained soil with rich organic content.  Raised beds warm more quickly in the spring for earlier growth and faster start,  and are not subject to excessively-wet soil conditions.  Heavy rainfall, —particularly late in the season if  garlic is almost ready to harvest —can result in excessive spoilage of  your best garlic bulbs. Rule of thumb —When garlic leaves are beginning to yellow,  garlic should be harvested to be dried and cleaned, especially if wet soil conditions persist. Plant Garlic in the Fall  Planting garlic cloves late in the fall as opposed to spring planting gives the garlic time to develop a large root system for a head start on growth in the spring as soils warm. Plant 2-3 weeks ahead of the ground freezing in your area.  The objective is to grow roots only, with no top growth in the fall. Top growth that breaks the surface in the fall when planted too early dies off with freezing, and diminishes food storage and growth potential in the clove.  If you cannot plant in the fall, plant as EARLY as possible in the spring.

Choose the Largest, Best Garlic Cloves for seed:

To grow better garlic, choose the biggest and best-formed bulbs from your own crop when harvesting. Allow them to dry, clean, and and take choice cloves for planting in the fall. Doing so allows you the the optimum start for growing next year's crop. Ensure there is a section of 'root base' or 'footprint' on each clove you save.   Choosing weak, small garlic cloves for seed will result in a slower start and diminished potential. These are hybridized, acclimatized and choice garlic cloves chosen for seed. These are not the large "elephant" variety.
Select Garlic Bulbs chosen for Seed   Photo by r.a. kukkee

2.0 Home-grown, select Garlic Cloves  chosen for Seed              Photo 2014 by r.a. kukkee

Separate Beds for Different Types of Garlic

If you enjoy and want to preserve the flavour of specific varieties of garlic, some mild,  and others which are stronger, hot and spicy, separate them into identifiable groups when planting. Garlic cross-pollinates.  In photo  5.0  below note the dual nature and difference in size  of the cloves in the garlic bulb at the six-o'clock position. 
Garlic being hybridized through cross-pollination

3.0  Garlic may be  hybridized through cross-pollination    Photo 2014   by r.a. kukkee

 If you cannot separate the varieties adequately for lack of space in your garden,  ensure the groups are identified, and remove the * 'scapes' (flower stalks)  well before the florets open and mature .  If  left in place and allowed to mature, the florets open, pollination of the florets takes place, and seed, or tiny bulbs, called bulbils will form.  For the best performance, snap off  the tender, curly scapes  with their white, immature floret and use them for salads, stir-fries, or steamed like asparagus.  

*Hint:  The timely removal of scapes when they 'curl', (before the florets mature) also results in larger garlic bulbs

Acclimatize your Garlic!

Garlic not only cross-pollinates, but  adapts itself to unique soil and climate conditions. Optimum growth and size of any garlic variety may not occur for a couple of years as the garlic adapts to conditions in a specific locality and micro-climate. That optimization alone is an excellent reason to harvest and save garlic bulbils and cloves  from favourite types and re-planting rather than purchasing new seed. The following photo comparing the size of garlic bulbs  is for comparative purposes;  garlic grown initially but optimized for best growing conditions and acclimatized for several years in the same location.
Garlic acclimatized to Soil

4.0 Comparative size of garlic bulbs after acclimatization of this variety for several years in the same location --and optimizing growing conditions       Photo 2014 by r.a. kukkee


 Maintain and Experiment with Generations of Garlic

If you plant a)  seed or bulbils   b) small first-year garlic bulbs,  and  c) cloves from large, mature garlic  all  in the same growing season, three generations of garlic will be growing.   Bulbils, or seed, when planted the first year, may produce a very small,  bulb consisting of cloves, or alternatively, a small, round, 'onion-like' bulb.  Planted the second growing season, a normal, full-sized garlic bulb(sectioned into cloves) will be produced.
Garlic from bulbils of initial planting through cross-pollination and several seasons of Acclimatization

5.0.   Clockwise from bottom right Garlic from bulbils (center)  of initial planting through cross-pollination  at bottom, and size increases over  several seasons of Acclimatization

 If cross-pollinated, none of the three choices will necessarily remain true to type, but planting different generations of garlic does offer the opportunity to choose and optimize, as an example, these bulbils, which were unusually large, and were selected to be planted in the hope that larger bulbs would be produced.
Mature garlic bulbils   Photo by r.a.kukkee

6.0  Mature garlic bulbils Photo  2012  by r.a.kukkee


Experiment and Go by Results Achieved

As with any experiment, the happy gardener can only go by results achieved, whether it is planting one variety of garlic or several varieties together and allow them to cross-pollinate.  The photos show a transition from cross-pollination of two types,  of which there are many.  See the Garlic Compendium for a listing of various types available at the time of writing the list.  Many more are available. With care and thoughtful planning, you, too, can grow better garlic starting this season.  Happy Gardening!


  Is that Incoming I hear?    Tags:  gardening, how to grow garlic,  grow better garlic, pollination, gardening techniques, growing food, gardening skills, acclimatizationFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

4 Responses to Gardening: Grow better Garlic

  1. Wow so much great advice here for gardeners to help them get top-quality garlic. Such a useful post, Raymond!

    • Hi, Christyb, yes, if you grow garlic, this really does work well. I have fantastic garlic each year now, much larger and better quality than when I first tried garlic. I do hope you have some garden available to try it “:) Thanks for commenting! ~R

  2. Rosemary says:

    What a great load of info, Raymond! I had a whole bunch of Elephant garlic I was going to plant last fall and never got to it. Wonder if I should try now, or if I should just toss ’em? Anyway, great stuff. So much to consider, but you’ve made it a lot easier.

    • Hi Rosemary, thank you. If the garlic was well stored, in good shape, solid, display no mould, and not dried out, you can still plant it. Separate the bulbs into cloves, if the individual cloves feel solid and cool (indicating plenty of moisture inside) with a piece of root base attached, go ahead and plant them. In your area you still have enough time for a successful crop, so do plant them as early as possible. Thank you for commenting, and best luck with your elephant garlic “:) ~R

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