Rule #1 - Avoid planting grocery store garlic
Rule #2 - Bigger bulbs form bigger cloves for planting
I use two boxes to sort, one for the "bigger" bulbs and one for the "smallish" ones. While watching something entertaining on NetFlix, I gently pull apart the the bulbs to seek out "the big ones" or those individual cloves that are larger in size.
Big tip: Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves, as that makes them unusable for planting. (They may not sprout!)
Over the many years that I've planted garlic, I've noticed a trend.
Bigger bulbs created a greater number of bigger cloves. In the garlic world, bigger is better. They're easier to work with. From the peeling back process to the chopping and mincing, it's less effort for you.
The tinier cloves don't seem worth the effort. I dislike fighting with a clove that is the size of a dime. I'd prefer quarter-sized cloves and bigger.
In each bulb, you'll typically find a large range in size including several bigger cloves, a few medium sized cloves and a few more tiny cloves.
It's just that overall, a bigger bulb will produce a few bigger cloves on average that are larger than the bigger cloves in the smaller bulb.
So a big bulb may yield 3-4 good sized cloves to plant and the smaller bulb may only yield 1-2. And those 3-4 cloves will likely be bigger than the 1-2 yielded from the smaller bulb.
However, depending on how many cloves you require for planting, you may find you need them all as I do.
One good size clove provides me with a bulb of 6-7 cloves when I go to harvest. Any more than that and I've done very well indeed!
Rule #3 - Sort your cloves
I confess, I enjoy this process. It's kind of like a game. We consume lots and lots of garlic so I try to find 40-50 cloves worthy of planting.
This still leaves me with a hundred or so smaller cloves for eating. It's the perfect balance of enjoying now and investing for later.
There's lots of debate (it's quite a heated issue!) whether or not you should remove the clove wrappers prior to planting. Some say that the wrappings help protect against many soil-borne microbes while the cloves are growing roots.
Others argue that the wrappings should be removed as the garlic clove covers can contain fungal spores, or conidia or the eggs of pests such as mites and are best discarded rather than planted.
I do remove the outermost layer but don't "pick away" at the clove if you know what I mean.
Rule #4 - Lay out your cloves to dry
I like to separate mine as shown above in a box before I plant.
Here in Buffalo, we try to plant before we get a super hard frost so I aim for the end October or early November when I'm running behind schedule.
But I've heard many Southern gardeners enjoy planting their garlic as late as February or March. Nice!
Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F.
In colder areas, your goal is to get the garlic to grow roots before the deep freeze shows its ugly head, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the winter.
Raised beds help me achieve this goal because "the ground" takes virtually forever to freeze.
In warmer areas, the goal is to get enough top growth to get off to a flaming start in the spring, but not so much top growth that the leaves can't stand the winter.
If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can re-grow and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will go way down!
Rule #5 - Don't plant upside down
Rule #6 - Plant only the most pristine of bulbs
I just cut off the brown spots first. Brown spots are likely a fungus so why take the chance? There are other cloves to choose from free of disease.
I've read that these brown spots could be fusarium which reveals itself as small brown spots on the cloves, yellowed leaves and stunted browned roots.
If you notice this, fusarium levels can be kept down by adding wood ash when planting.
You can even dust your garlic beds with wood ashes over the winter as you accumulate more from your wood stove or fire pit. (If you have one.)
Rule #7 - Give them space
I've also learned the hard way over the years that if your plant your garlic too close together the bulbs don't grow as big as this stunts their growth.
Sadly, this was very true of my last crop. Both the bulbs and the cloves inside the bulbs were tiny. We planted too close together!
I've read many places online that's it's okay to plant just 3 inches apart but I respectfully disagree. Too close! Stunts the growth.
Rule #8 Mulch to help with the overwintering process
Young shoots can't survive in temps below 20 degrees Fahrenheit on their own.
Water every 3-5 days during the bulbing season, that's mid-May through June. This means your garlic wants about 1-2" of water per week during the growing season (not during the winter).
Stop watering when the leaves start to turn yellow.
Cut off any flower shoots that emerge in spring. These may decrease bulb size and we don't want that!
Last, when you go to pull off that excess mulch, realize you may have new "friends" nesting in it. Each year, I get at least one bunny family that begs me not to disturb them!
Rule #9 - Use and enjoy the entire garlic plant from top to bottom
Once the tips start turning brown you are ready to dig the bulbs up carefully with a spade.
But if you're like me and impatient to get a headstart (and are frugally minded) you'll want to snip and eat the scapes first.
This usually occurs about a month before harvest time, so for me, it's around June.
Typically, I steam my scapes and they taste like garlicky green beans. Scrumptious and nutritious.
Rule #10 - Store excess bulbs for future use
- Wait until bulbs are dry prior to storing. Remove dirt and trim off excess roots and leaves. I remove the ickiest wrappers but keep most on.
- Keep them cool, as in about 40 degree F. in a dark, dry place. The basement might not be the best spot if yours is moist. Maybe your garage or garden shed instead?
- Avoid temps between 40-50 degrees F. in the summer as this causes the garlic to sprout before you are ready to plant (been there...done that!) No refrigerator. Bad refrigerator.
- Good news! The flavor increases as the bulbs are dried.
- Quick reminder, save some of your larger bulbs with no brown markings for next season.