Spaghetti.  Roasted chicken.  Foccacia Bread.  Hummus.  Pizza.  Pesto.  Pretty-Much-Any-Roasted-Vegetable.  What do all these foods have in common?  None of them would be the same without garlic.

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Instead of sharing a recipe this week, I’d like to show you how we grow garlic, a key cooking ingredient.  We grow hardneck garlic, or garlic that produces a flowering scape in the spring, as opposed to softneck garlic, which rarely flowers and is the garlic most commonly found in grocery stores.  Hardneck varieties have anywhere from 4-12 cloves, depending on the cultivar.  Each of these cloves has the capability to produce a new garlic bulb—that is, if you choose to plant the clove instead of eat it.

Garlic Planting Instructions

1. Consider Quantity

For hardneck garlic, 1 bulb planted yields anywhere from 5-8 new bulbs, depending on the number of cloves in the garlic variety.  To determine how much to plant, divide the amount you’d like to produce by 6.  For instance, if you’d like to yield 48 bulbs of garlic, you’d buy 8 bulbs to plant, or about 1 pound of seed garlic.

2. Consider Quality

People often ask if they can plant garlic they buy at the grocery store.  It’s a good question, but the answer is, “No!”  Seed garlic is graded at 2” diameter, because larger bulbs generally contain larger cloves.  When you plant large cloves, you yield large bulbs.  Also, store-bought eating garlic hasn’t been screened for diseases and may be susceptible to pests once planted.  We recommend purchasing seed garlic from a commercial garlic seed grower using organic growing methods, such as Perkins’ Good Earth Farm or Filaree Farm. 

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3. Break the Bulbs Apart

A few days before planting, break the bulbs into individual cloves.  Twist the top off the bulb, peel away the outer skins (not the individual clove skins), and remove the cloves.  We call this “popping”, and because it’s quite time consuming, we think popping works best as a group activity. 

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This year a group of Taylor University students helped pop garlic during a field trip to our farm.  Thank you, Taylor!

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4. Soak the Cloves

12 hours before planting, we soak our garlic in a solution designed to give a nutrient boost and to prevent disease and insect carry over.

Seed Soak Recipe

1. At least 12 hours before planting, soak cloves in 

  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp fish seaweed fertilizer
  • 1 gallon water

2. Right before planting, dunk cloves in 70% isopropyl alcohol for 5 minutes.

3. Plant immediately.

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5. Plant

Because of the amount of garlic we grow, we plant in the field behind our house.  A home gardener planting a small amount, however, might consider planting in a raised bed.  Either way, prepare rows 8-12 inches apart, and plant each clove 5-6 inches apart.  Cloves should be planted 3-4 inches deep here in Northwest Indiana because of the winter temperatures (in the south you could plant 1.5-2” deep).  Be sure to plant basal side down, as the roots grow from the base of the clove.  Cover the cloves with soil.

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This year we had the opportunity to try planting in a new way, with a garlic cart.  This cart was funded by a SARE grant, and was developed by us and Purdue agricultural engineering students.  We’re still in the experimentation stage with the cart, but we’re hopeful it will make commercial hardneck garlic planting more efficient and easier on the body. Click here to see a video of Dan using the cart to cover the planted garlic. 

Dan and Dirk Planting

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6. Mulch

Mulch heavily (3-5 inches deep) with weed-free straw for weed and moisture control.  There’s no need to remove the straw in the spring, as the garlic is strong enough to push through the mulch. You can also use grass clippings, but you’ll need to put a new layer on in the spring. 

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For more information on growing garlic, you are welcome to come visit us at our farm!  We also recommend reading Growing Great Garlic by Ron L. Engeland.  For recipe ideas, search for cookbooks from Gilroy’s Garlic Festival, such as this one we found at a used book store a few years ago.

Have you ever planted garlic before?  If so, how was your planting experience?  For those who prefer cooking to planting, what’s your favorite way to eat garlic?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section!

Photographs and Food Styling: Anne Kingma