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Plant Your Garlic In October

Two braids of garlic on a wooden table

If you want to get fancy, you can braid your garlic, while it is still green. I usually just bundle mine into sets of 5, before hanging them from nails in my shed. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Garlic is known in legends and fairy tales for its ability to ward off vampires or other evil spirits. And if you associate garlic with Halloween, it might help you remember that October is a good time to plant garlic. It's a bulb, like a tulip bulb, so you plant it in the fall and it comes up in the Spring. You harvest the mature garlic sometime in June and let it cure in a dry place for about 6 weeks. It is a fairly low-maintenance crop, with a great yield (6-8 times what you plant, each year). Here's a set of instructions if you are ready to try a crop of your own. 

Grow your own garlic.

  • In late October or early November plant individual garlic cloves in well-drained soil, at least 7 inches apart. Leave the skins on and plant them pointy side up, about 5 inches deep. (If you don't have your own garlic, get some large bulbs from the farmers' market, or buy some organic garlic from the store.  
  • Cover the bed with a thick layer of straw or leaf mulch. Mark the bed so you don't forget it's there and accidentally dig it up in the spring!
  • In the spring, the garlic will begin to shoot up through the straw. 
  • As the garlic grows, it will eventually send up a stiff central stock with a slender bud on top. Sometimes they curl near the top. This is called a scape, and it is basically the garlic going to seed. Pull these out so that your garlic will put all its energy into making the bulbs. (the scapes are delicious, by the way. You can cook with them just as you would garlic, though they are a bit milder in flavor).
  • Sometime in late June or early July, the outer leaves of the garlic will begin to dry out. When 3 or 4 of them are dry, you can go ahead a dig up your garlic. Be careful though, it is easy to damage the bulbs with a shovel or a garden fork. Try to pick a dry day for harvesting.
  • When you pull them out of the ground, brush off the excess dirt, and tie the tops in bundles of 5. Find a dry place to hang them up, out of direct sun and allow them to cure for 6 to 8 weeks. Make sure there is plenty of airflow around the garlic bundles. 
Kayte Young smiling while cutting a garlic stock, stitting at a table outdoors
Trimming cured garlic might be one of my favorite garden-related tasks. 
  • Once they are cured, cut the bulbs off of the stalk, trim the roots (or leave them, if you prefer that look) and peel off the outermost paper. 
  • Store the garlic in mesh bags, in a cool dry place until ready to use. Be sure to set aside some of the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall. 
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