Garlic is my absolute favorite vegetable. It's low-maintenance, perfect for the novice gardener, and the reward is the distinctive flavor that's essential to many great dishes. If you're looking to grow your own garlic, it's helpful to understand the different stages of garlic cultivation to ensure you're getting the most out of it.
Depending on where you live and the type of garlic plant you are growing, the time from seed to harvest can be anywhere from 5 to 10 months. That's a long wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor. As you understand the different stages of garlic growth, you will begin to experience the full spectrum of flavors that garlic offers.
Not only does garlic taste delicious, but it also has so many health benefits! Cloves are full of essential vitamins and minerals that boost your immune system. Regular consumption of garlic can also lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. In general, garlic is great for improved heart health and may even deter the odd vampire.
Garlic Life Stages
Unripe Garlic. Source: anastaz1a
Can you believe some people don't eat garlic because they think it makes you smell? Well, it may make you smell a little, but some believe this is garlic's natural detoxification process, removing unhealthy toxins through your pores. There are some home remedies for the smell. Firstly, drinking lemon juice or eating lemons will help with smelly breath, and secondly, adding lots of fresh parsley to dishes that contain garlic will reduce overall garlicky body odor.
The strength of the garlic flavor varies depending on the growth stage and variety. Below are the different growth stages of garlic and tips for harvesting at each stage.
Each bulb of garlic contains an average of 6 to 15 individual cloves. Each clove acts like a single seed, which over time produces a whole multi-cloves onion. Garlic cloves are not seeds in the usual sense. Garlic has been cultivated and bred for the best flavor and bulb size for 4000 years, and over that time it has lost its ability to produce viable seeds. Some varieties of garlic still produce flowers, but they tend to die off before seeds are produced.
Depending on the variety, cloves can be sown in autumn or spring. Varieties sown in fall can go dormant for up to 3 months before developing a shoot. All of the action during this time takes place in the root system, providing a strong, healthy foundation to see the garlic clove through the winter months.
Hardneck strains require a period of cold vernalization for the clove to separate into individual cloves. Nature takes care of this process for garlic planted in the fall; However, spring-sown garlic may need some support in the refrigerator. Carnations sown in spring develop roots quickly after planting, followed by shoots about a month later.
The Early Purple Wight cultivar is a fall-sown softneck garlic that ripens early, from late May in warmer areas and early June in more northerly zones. Shoots may not appear until late winter, but once they appear, they develop quickly. Cristo is a variety of garlic that can be sown in autumn or spring. Planting garlic in the spring will produce shoots in a few weeks and the plants will have a shorter growing season.
Spring Garlic (aka Green Garlic)
Spring or green garlic can be harvested when the plants have developed tall, lush green shoots and the young bulbs are not fully established underground. Green garlic can be harvested and used in the same way as green onions. The vegetables have a fresh garlic/onion flavor and can be used in salads, sandwiches or as a side dish. Spring garlic does not have the same storage capacity as pickled ripe onions and should be eaten fresh or refrigerated for up to a week.
Garlic cloves can be used fresh, much like garlic cloves. Source: Bird Pictures
Garlic cloves are the modified flower stalks of hardneck garlic varieties. They are strong, often curly stems with an elongated, closed, pointed bud when young. Left to their own devices, the buds open and form a spherical leek flower. The formation of garlic stalks and flowers diverts energy from the bulb, so removing them is important if you want to grow large bulbs. Scapes are usually an indicator that the garlic head will be ready to harvest in about a month.
Garlic cloves are a delicious bonus crop made from the seed of the single clove. They can be sautéed in butter, added to stir-fries, or blitzed into a garlic scape pesto! Scapes are best used fresh. Alternatively, you can store it in the fridge for up to a week, or shred it and freeze it in ice cube trays for later use.
Young pear stage
If you need some garlic and your crop isn't quite ripe yet, you can always harvest an onion a few weeks early. Young onions don't grow quite as large as when fully ripe, but you have the added benefit of being able to eat the young green leaves. These unripe young onions have a fresh garlic flavor that can vary in strength from very strong to very mild. Young garlic bulbs become covered with a moist leathery skin that would normally form the papery outer layers of a mature garlic bulb.
Similar to spring garlic and garlic sprouts, young onions do not store well and should be used fresh or stored in a cool place for up to a week.
Ripe pear stage
The ripe onion stage is really what most garlic growers are all about. In early summer, social media is flooded with images of record harvests or, unfortunately, for some crop failures. With garlic plants, it's difficult to know how successful your crop will be until you pull the bulbs out of the ground…unless you have an early taster!
Ripe onions should have strong, erect stems with fleshy leaves, and the heads should be covered in white, pink, and even purple paper skins. As they reach maturity in their life cycle, the leaves slowly begin to yellow, eventually turning brown, signaling it's time to harvest. Harvested onions can be used immediately or stored for longer use. These heads have a strong flavor that doesn't form in the earlier growth stages of their life cycle.
When the garlic bulbs are ripe, the inflorescences have unwound in an upward direction and the buds have burst, revealing a typical Allium sphere with many tiny white flowers tinged pink and often interspersed with small bulbs. These bulbils are immature garlic cloves that can be saved and used to grow garlic in future years. Bulbils have the added benefit of being perfectly adapted to your climate and completely disease free.
Ripe garlic bulbs produced from flowering stalks are small, but it is necessary if you wish to store flower seeds and/or bulb flowers. Flowers also produce garlic seeds, which are small and black like onion seeds. Unfortunately, garlic seeds are often not viable and will not germinate. Growing garlic from bulbs or garlic seeds requires patience as it can take 3 to 4 years to produce harvestable garlic bulbs using this method. It is much faster to grow garlic from garlic cloves.
Garlic goes through many stages of growth before it is ripe. Source: Adrian Midgley
Harvest garlic bulbs when one-third to one-half of the leaves on your garlic plant have turned yellow. Bulbs left in the ground for too long will open up, allowing soil and moisture in, increasing the risk of rot in storage. Be careful when harvesting garlic to avoid damaging the base of the plant. Harvest the entire plant, brush off as much soil as possible, and place the bulbs in a single layer in a well-ventilated, shady spot sheltered from the elements. These heads will take a few weeks to heal. When done, the leaves, stems, and bulb of garlic should feel completely dry. Cut back the leaves and peel off the outermost papers to remove last traces of soil and store in a dark and cool place until needed. Use these as needed for their strong flavor.
Select some of your largest, healthiest looking bulbs to use as seeds for next year.
Garlic tips and tricks
One of the most important elements of growing garlic is finding the right soil, location and spacing. Plant garlic in rich, moisture-retaining, freely draining soil in a bright, sunny spot. Garlic plants don't do well with competing weeds, so regularly chop and space the plants at least 20cm apart to ensure the bulbs don't compete with each other.
frequently asked Questions
Leek and Green Garlic. Source: scazza
Q: How long does garlic take to grow?
A: Garlic sown in the fall can take 9 to 10 months to fully mature. Carnations sown in late winter/spring will be ready to harvest in 5 to 6 months.
Q: How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?
A: Signs that your bulbs are ready to harvest are 3 to 4 weeks after the garlic leaves have formed, when the stalks bloom and/or when one-third to one-half of the leaves have turned yellow.
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