Want to grow an easy crop that will impress your friends? Grow garlic!
A lot of folks in Colorado (including myself) love garlic. And fortunately for us, garlic loves Colorado!
One of my favorite things about gardening is giving some of the harvest away. That’s especially true with garlic. Friends and family enjoy receiving tomatoes or herbs, but there’s just something about a big beautiful head of garlic. It’s like a special surprise treat!
So if you love garlic…. or know people who do…. Tagawa Gardens is the place to be!
Be fussy. Grow only gourmet garlic!
The garlic we sell at Tagawa’s bears little resemblance to what you can buy at the grocery store. This is gourmet garlic, and it’s in a league of its own.
We’re offering dozens of varieties, some of them in limited supply. The garlic strains have names as beautiful as the bulbs. “Music” is described as “cold hardy, slightly spicy and incredibly flavorful.” “Lautrec Pink” has “a strong flavor with a slight sweetness.” And for the bold among you, “Russian Inferno” is “hot and spicy raw, but mellow when roasted.”
The challenge with this garlic isn’t planting it. That’s easy. The tough part is deciding which ones to grow. But we at Tagawa’s are here to help. All of our bins of garlic have excellent pictures and detailed information about each strain. Come see us, prepared to do a bit of reading before you make your choices.
The time to plant garlic in Colorado is now!
Garlic loves Colorado because our winters give it the cold period it needs before it starts to grow in earnest next spring. Planting in early fall, while the soil is still warm and daytime temperatures encourage root growth, gives your garlic plants a chance to establish themselves before winter sets in. You’ll often see a few green shoots emerge before the plants go dormant for the winter. Not to worry! That’s perfectly normal. The growth will kick in again when temperatures start to climb in May. The exposed shoots rarely show any signs of damage from the cold, and any snow is a bonus!
Plant your garlic in September or October, in a sunny spot. At least six hours of full sun is ideal. A little bit of light shade during the hottest part of the afternoon will be fine, and may actually produce slightly larger bulbs.
Work some compost into the bed before you plant. Garlic likes a rich, loose soil with excellent drainage. I grow my garlic in raised beds to help overcome the challenges of Colorado’s clay soil. I till a few inches of compost into the beds every season. Good soil is always a work in progress. Your garlic beds will also benefit if you lightly rake in a high quality bulb fertilizer just before you plant.
Remember how I said choosing the variety was the toughest part?
I wasn’t kidding. To make your choice easier, let’s look at the two basic types of garlic you can choose from.
“Softneck” garlic is what you see in garlic braids. The neck or stem of softnecks is pliable, allowing the leaves to be braided before they dry. Very mild forms of softneck are what you usually find in the grocery stores.
Softnecks have thicker skins and can be a bit more difficult to peel. But those heavier skins also give the softnecks a longer shelf life, averaging around five months if stored properly.
The “hardneck” varieties of garlic tend to have more intense, complicated flavor. Their stem is woody, and usually produces a flower stalk called a “scape.” This wonderful tall spike will often turn into a complete curley-cue after it emerges in the spring. The experts say that removing the scape before it starts to straighten will concentrate the plant’s energy and make bigger bulbs. Sometimes I leave a few of these whimsical flower stalks in place just because they make me laugh. The harvested scapes are full of nice garlic flavor and make good additions to dishes like stir-fry and soup. It’s best not to let the mature seeds spread on their own. You could end of with dozens of tiny garlic plants where you may not want them.
The hardnecks have thinner outer skin than the softnecks. That makes them easier to peel but also gives them a shorter shelf life than the softnecks. Hardnecks will keep for an average of three to four months if properly stored.
Plant the lovely cloves pointing up to the sky
When it’s time to plant (late September or early October along the Front Range), break the bulbs apart gently. Don’t separate them too long before you plant or the individual cloves may begin to dry out and be less vigorous.
Plant only the largest, plumpest cloves. The bigger the clove the bigger the bulb it will produce. Tuck the cloves into your prepared site with the flat side down and the pointy side up. The top of each clove should be about three inches below the soil surface.
Plant the cloves about six inches apart. Planting them closer makes it difficult to harvest without damaging adjacent plants. If you’re interested in keeping track of your different varieties, be sure to mark the rows as you plant with something sturdy that will still be there next spring. I use and re-use good old fashioned wooden survey stakes. A fresh coat of white spray paint each year and they’re good as new.
Water the bed well once you’re done. I give my garlic a few weeks of growing while the weather stays warm, then I mulch them heavily as the air temperature begins to drop. Mulching is important. I use a six-inch layer of pine needles. They’re light and won’t pack down, which is critical. And they’re free!
You can also use loose straw. The point is to mulch the beds with something that won’t compress, so moisture can get through to the plants. You also want to keep the bed insulated over the winter. This will also be help discourage weed seeds from sprouting next spring.
If the winter weather goes dry, I’ll drag a hose down to my garlic beds and give them a good drink. The top growth may be taking a break, but I still don’t want those lovely little plants below ground to go too dry.
Need some help planting? Here is our garlic planting video featuring Kris, from Peaceful Desert Homestead!
Spring and early-summer care
Proper watering during spring and early summer is critical. The best way to check on soil moisture is to pull back some of the mulch in the center of the bed. Grab a small amount of soil and see if it holds together when gently compressed in your fist. If it sticks together in a kind of glob, the soil may be too wet. If it just crumbles and won’t hold its shape, your plants aren’t getting enough water.
When you do water, water deeply! Check to make sure the moisture is getting down several inches where the garlic roots can use it. Don’t just be watering the mulch or the top inch or two of soil. Your bulbs will suffer in both size and taste.
Bring on the harvest!
First-time garlic growers can do everything just right and then drop the ball when it comes to harvesting. So here’s the scoop on when and how to bring in your crop.
Most garlic grown along the Front Range will be maturing in mid- to late July. Some varieties will ripen sooner. Others a week or two later. But you don’t want to leave any of them in the ground too long or they’ll mature so much that they split open into separate cloves. That makes them much harder to harvest and and they won’t store nearly as well.
Ideally, start gradually cutting back on your watering a few weeks before harvest. Garlic plants, like most other plants, “talk” to us. We just have to listen. When the very lowest leaves begin to turn yellow, and then dry completely, the plant is winding down. The watering should wind down, too, and then stop, so the bulbs can begin to harden off.
When about one-third of the plant’s lowest leaves have turned from green to brown, it’s time to harvest. In our heavier soils, pulling the garlic by the stalk won’t work. The stalk will break off, leaving our beautiful garlic crop right where it grew.
Instead of pulling, use a garden fork to gently pry up the bulbs and then lift them out of any soil clumped around them. Go slow. Be careful to dig between the plants so you don’t skewer the bulbs themselves. Once they’re up, don’t leave the harvested bulbs in direct sun, even for a few minutes. They’re very tender at this stage and can burn easily. As I harvest my garlic, I set the bulbs into a large tray or tub and cover the whole thing with a towel to keep them shaded until I’m done.
The last step…
Working out of the sun, gently brush off any loose soil, trying not to disturb the outer papery skin of each bulb. Resist the urge to wash the bulbs. This is a time for slow, careful drying.
Leave the leaves and roots on the bulb and let them cure, tied together and hanging in bundles or laid out flat, in a shady, airy place. Proper curing improves the flavor and increases shelf life significantly. In three to four weeks, all of the leaves should be dry and brittle. That’s when you can cut the stem down to within an inch of the bulb and trim the roots.
Store your lovely garlic in mesh bags in a cool place…. never in the refrigerator! Or start giving them away and earn the love and devotion of friends and family.
Remember to save the bulbs with the biggest, fattest cloves to use as seed garlic for the next crop. If you use every bit of garlic you grow, or give it all away, simply come see us again at Tagawa’s to start this garlic adventure all over again! Good luck, and let all vampires beware!