Organic Garlic Planting Day! (A How-To)

Today was garlic planting day, one of my favorite days of the year; I love homegrown garlic THAT much!!  It is juicer with more flavor, and is sweeter with less bite.  Besides adding wonderful flavor to dishes, garlic has many health benefits as well!  Believe me when I say that we eat a lot of garlic; when I cook with it I go heavy handed and usually add 1-2 entire heads (not cloves, heads) to the pan.  No one has ever complained that we smell like garlic, which is very surprising.

I took photos while Jamie was going through the process today in the hopes that you’ll be inspired to also grow your own.  I must warn you though, if you do chose to start growing your own garlic, you’ll never want to go back to store bought!  I’m sure there are different planting routines depending on which grower you talk to.  Below is Jamie’s easy 4-step process, and he has never had a crop failure or problem.  It took him around 3 hours to plant 6 rows, each 20 feet long.

Mid October is the usual time to plant garlic in CT.  Jamie is planting a little later this year because it has been such a mild autumn.  Regarding when to plant garlic, this article in Mother Earth News states, “In fall, plant cloves in well-drained beds after the first frost has passed and the soil is cool. Cloves can also be planted in late winter as soon as the soil thaws, but fall-planted garlic produces bigger, better bulbs.”

Jamie has had success growing both hardneck and softneck varieties in our Zone 5 (he has also grown elephant “garlic”, which is technically a variety of leek).  However, for the past few years he’s only planted hardneck varieties, which are the hardiest for cold weather Zones.  We buy our bulbs from a fellow in the area or from growers at the Garlic Festival held in Bethlehem each fall. If you don’t have a Garlic Festival in your locale, you can order them online but be sure to look for garlic that was grown in your area or at least in your particular Planting Zone for best results. You can also grow the regular garlic that you get at the health food store or grocery store, but you probably won’t find much variety and what they sell may not be right for your particular Planting Zone.  Buying garlic from someone local is the best idea since it is already aclimated to your weather.  We always buy organic garlic.  Or course, if you grow enough and store it properly, you may have some leftover to replant for the following year.

Lingo:  “Bulb” refers to the whole head of garlic.  “Clove” refers to the individual “toe”.



Jamie starts by mixing up a smelly concoction to soak the bulbs in:  2 qts of water, 2+ capfuls of fish emulsion and 2 Tab of baking soda. Liquid kelp can be substituted for fish emulsion. Whether buying fish emulsion or liquid kelp, look for all natural, no chemical formulas.  Jamie buys his from Garden’s Alive.  Soak the whole bulbs for an hour or more.  Jamie always pre-soaks, but I know that there are also successful growers that skip this step.


These are the starter garlic bulbs soaking in Jamie’s “smelly concoction”. Our stainless steel bucket has come in handy over the years for a variety of purpuses.  KitKat seems to enjoy the aroma.


While the starter bulbs are soaking, Jamie prepares his rows.  First he tills the area where he’ll be planting, but if you don’t have a tiller you can turn the soil over by hand.  Jamie always uses a line strung around two posts to create straight rows. He also marks his rows with sticks or posts and labels them so he knows exactly what was planted.

When planting garlic, make the troughs 3″ deep.  Space the rows 8″ – 12″ apart.

A note regarding soil:  Soil composition is a blog in and of itself and will be covered at a later time.  I just want to make a couple of points regarding preparing the soil to plant garlic.  Make sure the area drains well; garlic doesn’t like to be sitting in soggy soil, it rots their roots.  Also soil in general needs to be fertile and healthy if you are to successfully grow any nutritious vegetables, herbs, berries, etc.  If you doubt the health of your soil, read up on the topic and make the appropriate adjustments.  Jamie supplements his soil with our own compost and sometimes Coast of Maine organic plant foods as well as our neighbor’s aged cow manure and/or our own aged chicken manure.


You calculate how many feet of growing area is needed based on how many cloves you’ll be planting spaced 6″ apart.  Each clove will grow into a new head of garlic.


Push each clove into the soil so that it is 3″-4″ deep with the pointy end facing up; plant them 6″ apart.


Jamie breaks the cloves off each head of garlic as he goes along.


Afterwards, Jamie uses a rake to cover the rows with soil.  Once all of the rows are planted he’ll cover with a thick layer of straw to insulate during the winter.


Jamie claims that the six rows he planted today will yield enough for our family. But I disagree because I know he planted 1/3 more last year and that was just right; I will probably buy more bulbs for him to plant, lol.

This is the young garlic growing this past spring of 2015, which he planted fall 2014.  Every single clove that he plants faithfully comes up each year.


Note that last year he planted 9 rows. I like to gift garlic to our three kids, so that’s why I always insist he grow A LOT. It’s a running joke, I always want more garlic! After all, it’s a food staple isn’t it?

In early June the hardneck varieties of garlic will send up stalks from the center of the plant; these are called garlic scapes. They are thicker than the leaves. The scape, if left on the plant, will form a flower and then seed. We cut off the scapes so that the plant gets the signal to send all of it’s energy to the bulb, instead of putting energy toward flowers and seed.  Being able to harvest the scapes is another reason why we prefer to grow hardneck garlic.


The scapes are also delicious and I use them each spring to make pesto! Here is just some of the garlic scapes picked spring of 2015.

A great deal of garlic sold in the U.S. is grown in China and is contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. How can you tell if it’s grown in China? The roots will be carved out like in this photo. To ensure that you only eat safe and nutritious garlic, I hope you will consider growing your own. If that is not possible your next best choice would be to buy organic varieties.


Garlic grown in China has the roots dug out to pass current U.S. importation regulations (but if these rules change there would be no way to tell if it’s grown in China or not).


Mild “elephant garlic”, which is actually a type of leek.


Some of the garlic we harvested last spring.