Growing Garlic and Shallots
When to Plant
Garlic survives bitterly cold winters underground (or grows frost-hardy leaves where winters are mild to moderate), grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring, and bulbs in summer.
In the North, plant 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to make good root development but not enough time to make leaf growth. Where winters are milder, garlic is planted from October through January.
Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter so the soil remains light through the long growing season. Adding lots of good compost will make the difference in how large your garlic bulbs are.
How to Plant
Break the bulb into individual cloves. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch deep, root side down; where winter is severe, put them 2-4 inches deep and mulch lightly, immediately after planting. In spring, the garlic will have no trouble pushing through an inch of mulch. Minimum spacing on raised beds is 4 inches. To grow the largest bulbs, try spacing your plants every 6 inches.
After garlic has over wintered it must be kept well weeded. Garlic needs to be moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in spring with a good organic fertilizer for vegetables or a liquid fertilizer, sprayed every ten days to two weeks.
Once bulbing begins in late spring, fertilizing is useless, maybe even harmful to getting the best quality bulbs. While the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil most as you would for any other leafy green like lettuce or spinach.
Knowing the right time to harvest is very important. Dug too soon, the skins will not have formed around each clove. As the bulbs mature the outer leaves turn brown. This indicates that the papery shell is forming. When there are still 5-6 green leaves remaining on the plant, we dig and examine a plant every few days to check the bulb.
In very good garlic ground (very fluffy soil) the plants might be pulled by hand, but it is usually better to loosen the soil first with a spading fork. Immediately brush off the soil from around the roots, but do this gently. Drying is the essential part of curing the bulbs so do not wash them in water. Immediately move the newly dug garlic out of direct sunlight.