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The Garlic Farm
76 Simsbury Rd
West Granby,
Connecticut, 06090
860 264 5644
GarlicFarmCT.com
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About the farm

Garlic Farm tips for growing garlic

In reponse to many questions from customers eager to try growing their own garlic, here you'll find some tips for growing hardnecked garlic at home from Gary Cirullo, the owner of the Garlic Farm in Granby, CT. The farm grows pesticide-free German White hardnecked garlic for sale to customers as both culinary garlic and seed garlic.

You plant garlic in the fall, like any other spring bulb and harvest in midsummer.

Seed garlic is available for sale in late summer and early fall.

For the past two years on Open Farm Day, Gary has given at least one talk about growing garlic, with an opportunity for Q&A. Open Farm Day takes place on the Saturday after Labor Day weekend.

On this page:

Test your soil

Knowing your soil helps you understand what you need to add to have the best results with your garlic.

Gary recommends having your soil tested by the county's agricultural extension service. You'll learn about the pH of your soil and what nutrients and micronutrients naturally occur in your soil. Armed with those details, you can select the best nutrients and soil amendments to add.

The agricultural extension service for your state probably has a web page that explains how to collect the soil and deliver it for testing. In Connecticut, as in many states, the state university ag department operates the service.

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Aim for 7.0 pH in the soil

Although many expert sources recommend a slightly acidic soil (less than 7 pH), Gary's experience leads him to recommend a neutral pH for the healthiest and biggest garlic bulbs. He says, "The longer I've grown garlic, the more I realize the importance of the soil pH. If the soil is too acidic, the garlic can't take up the nutrients it needs, and it just gets smaller and smaller as the years go by."

Gary uses a lime mixture that's approved by organic farming guidelines, with magnesium or calcium incorporated, depending upon what the soil test says the fields need in any given year. The lime goes down on the field a week or two before planting time.

Even if you don't have your soil tested, simple homemade tests exist for soil pH (search the web). And, as Gary says, a little lime won't hurt anything unless you know that you have chalky soil, which is rare in our area.

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Plant individual cloves in the fall as the weather turns

Separate the cloves and set aside any that are very small or that feel soft or otherwise don't appear healthy.

Plan your garlic rows so you have about 6 inches between the plants. Garlic roots spread very little, and the overlapping leaves of adjoining plants help shade the soil to keep it moist and to help a bit in preventing weeds from taking over. At the Garlic Farm, Gary and the crew plant the cloves three across in long rows with room enough to walk between the rows easily to take care of the plants as they grow.

Plant the cloves of hardnecked garlic pointy end up, about 3 inches deep, per the University of Minnesota advice. (The only kind we now grow, German White, is a hardnecked variety. Softnecked varieties adapt better to being planted any which way, but softnecked varieties do not necessarily perform well in our climate.)

In general, plant as the weather becomes frosty (some frost at night) but before the hard frost (28-degree F.). You want the bulbs to put down some roots before the ground freezes. Water the bulbs at planting time to encourage immediate root growth.

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Mulch the garlic

To prevent frost heave and to keep down the weeds, cover the garlic row with mulch.

Choose mulch that's free of weed seeds. Garlic competes poorly with opportunistic annual weeds that quickly spread out a mat of roots and use up the nutrients your garlic needs.

In general, it's a good idea to wait till the ground freezes before laying down mulch so you don't inadvertently provide inviting winter housing for a population of rodents that might enjoy nibbling your garden's roots during the cold months.

If your mulch is heavy, you may need to keep an eye out in the spring for shoots that are bent over in the effort of pushing through the layer. Just gently loosen the mulch around the struggling shoots, and they'll spring up to the light.

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Feed, water, and weed

Fertilizing

What you use for fertilizer and how often you apply it depends to some extent upon how good your soil is and how much you want to invest in your garlic. In general, though, Gary says to use a low-nitrogen fertilizer in the fall because that's when you want root growth, not leaf development. In the spring, use higher nitrogen fertilizer. Then stop the feeding completely by, say, Memorial Day because then you want the energy of the plant to go into the bulb rather than leafiness.

For instance, Gary applies a low-nitrogen fertilizer (5-4-8) in the fall and a couple rounds of higher-nitrogen fertilizer in the spring: an application of 7-2-4 when the plants are 6 to 8 inches high and an application of 16-0-0 when they reach about a foot in height.

Water

Garlic needs plenty of water in April and May when we in the Farmington Valley of Connecticut normally have plenty of rain to keep the plants happy. If we have a dry spring, give the young plants water regularly. See the growing links for more specific irrigation advice.

Weed control

Plan to weed several times during the spring to remove competitors for the nutrients your garlic needs.

You may notice that the growing advice for commewrcial growers (below) suggests using an herbicide on the field. Gary doesn't do that, as he grows our garlic--and all the other crops on the Garlic Farm--according to the guidelines of the Northeast Organic Farming Asscociation.

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Scapes

In June the garlic plants send up a flower stalk called a scape. It lengthens and then curls around eccentrically and, as it matures and becomes more woody, it straightens out again and develops a spherical mass of tiny bulbils that could--very gradually over the course of several years--develop into clones of your plant if allowed to sprout.

Most growers cut off the scapes by the middle of June to force the plant to direct all of its energy into bulbing rather than "flowering." (Garlic plants that produce flowers rather than bulbils are rare.) The scapes are edible--delicious, in fact, if harvested while they're still tender in the first half of June.

If you're growing garlic for the first time, you might want to leave one or two scapes intact so you can see how they develop.

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Harvesting

Usually the garlic grown on the farm develops 10 to 14 leaves by mid-June; your experience may differ. As the garlic plants mature, the lower leaves turn brown, dry up, and fall off the plant one by one.

Gary recommends harvesting when your garlic plants still have four or five green leaves left. Each green leaf represents a layer of wrapper you'll have on the cured bulb.

To test bulb development, Gary usually also pulls the soil away from one side of a bulb or two to check whether it has developed the clove divisions characteristic of a mature bulb. When he sees the cloves bulge out a bit from the divisions between them, that's a good sign that the bulbs have matured. Too long in the ground, and the cloves open up and begin to separate from the stalk. If that happens, just use up those cloves first because they won't last as long in storage.

You may need to lift the bulbs up with a spade to prepare for harvest if the plants have rooted in heavy soil. Gary drives the tractor down the rows with an undercutting tool that slices the roots below the bulbs to make the plants easy to yank out of the soil, but you'll have to devise a manual method for coaxing the plants out of the ground without breaking the stalk off.

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Curing

Although you can enjoy the fresh garlic immediately after harvest--and it has a great juicy texture that lasts only for two or three weeks--most garlic needs a chance to dry out for storage. That drying process is called curing, as described in the growing links.

Give the freshly harvested garlic good ventilation and low-humidity during the curing process. Gary leaves on the stalks and hangs them in the louvered barn or trims the stalks to about 12 inches for curing on well ventilated wire racks in an environment-controlled curing house. Gary says the long stalks prevent bacteria from migrating into the bulb down the moist channel of the stalk.

If all goes well, the curing process allows the wrappers and the skin around the cloves and the cloves themselves to all dry at about the same rate so the cloves are tightly protected and healthy for the longest possible shelf life.

When you have finished curing your garlic, you can trim the stalks for more compact storage. Then you can also cull any bulbs or cloves that aren't firm and healthy looking. Use up the less firm bulbs first; the firm ones will store longer.

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Storage

See our garlic recipes page for storage advice. You'll also find recipes there (including methods for roasting garlic), and recipe links.

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Garlic growing links

Gary recommends two web pages with solid advice about growing garlic, both produced by the agriculture department of the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind that some of the details, such as planting dates, are specific to Minnesota and its climate zones.

One page provides information for home gardeners.

The second page targets farmers; the information about soil conditions and nutrients is much more detailed.

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preview page posted 15 October 2013

Updated 16 October 2013