I love growing garlic. It requires little attention, is attractive to no pests and reliably produces a great return.
We plant our garlic in October from cloves we select from the previous year’s harvest. Usually by mid-June it’s ready.
Digging it up is a little time-consuming as you have to use a digging fork to loosen the soil before you pull up the bulb, but by summertime farm work standards it isn’t difficult.
Once upon a time I tied and hung each plant to a cattle panel in our equipment shed where it would cure. Now that was time-consuming. These days we use a much more sensible technique–we lay the garlic out on top of overturned vegetable crates, surrounded by box fans. It dries out well this way and no tedious tying/hanging is necessary. This time of year our basement smells powerfully of garlic, which is alright by me.
I’ve found that our onions are usually ready to harvest by July 4, which coincidentally is when the garlic is cured and ready to be prepped for storage. In the early days I’d untie all the garlic, then tie and hang the onions in its place. Now we just gather up the garlic on the crates and replace it with onions. Works perfectly.
Fresh uncured garlic is a once-a-year treat and I recommend you try to find it at your farmers market next year. We offer it, dirty roots and all, and our customers rave about it. Of course they’re pretty fond of our cured garlic too–which is delicious and superior, of course, to store-bought garlic, most of which is imported from China.
Once the garlic is cured (that is, it has dried out and has the papery skin characteristic of cured garlic) we are faced with the task of cutting the stalks and roots off the thousands of bulbs we harvested. But the good news is that there is no rush. We knock it off a little at a time and it’s a good job for a dreary winter day.
For anyone who isn’t growing garlic, I recommend planting some this fall. It’s easy to grow no matter how ungreen one’s thumb might be. And in any event, try to source your garlic locally. Nutritious, delicious, medicinally valuable, locally-grown garlic is not only better tasting (usually heirloom varieties unavailable in grocery stores), but because it has fed off of the soil that nature designed to sustain life in your community, it’s better for you too.