Growing garlic can be the best health decision you can make – it is one of the best natural supplements for your immune system, and is a breeze to grow indoors and outdoors. You can even grow hydroponic garlic with the right setup.
One of the great benefits of growing garlic yourself is having a neverending supply of natural organic garlic at your disposal. This is especially helpful during those cold, wet winter months when you are more likely to get sick, and less likely to want to go out shopping.
What are the benefits of Garlic?
Garlic is a vegetable from the Allium family. Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B6, as well as other vitamins and minerals including Manganese, Selenium, vitamin C and Allicin (an anti-oxidant).
Eating garlic regularly may help reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as have cancer preventing properties. Garlic as a flavour enhancer is definitely a healthier alternative than salt. Consuming raw fresh garlic is highly considered for fighting off infections, which may include the common cold.
Why should I grow my own? How does this benefit me and the environment?
The benefit of growing your own garlic is control – you know where your garlic is being grown and what it is being fed. Garlic is in demand all year round, and as a result is a fairly costly vegetable. If the garlic cannot be grown locally (usually during the off-season) it will be imported from overseas, often increasing the price. Commercial growers, unless they are formally recognized as Organic farmers, are likely to use harmful pesticides to protect their precious crops, and laws regarding the use of these chemicals may vary greatly from country to country. Shipping imported food also generates greenhouse gases from the burning of fuel to fly or ship the produce to your local supermarket. All of these substances eventually end up in your food and in your body, so by growing your own garlic not only are you potentially saving money, but you are saving your health and the health of your environment as well.
How easy is it to grow garlic indoors? Can they grow in a container?
Garlic grows in small bulbs, therefore you don’t have the size restrictions you may face with tree or vine based produce like tomatoes or apples making it ideal for growing indoors. Planting in a garden with the correct soil does tend to produce the best yields, but you can definitely grow a good crop of garlic in a container garden or a raised garden bed. Growing your garlic indoors also protects your garlic crop from pests like onion thrips and root maggots.
I can’t emphasize how much garlic loves sunlight, so growing your crop in a window sill planter is a great space saving option.
Hydroponic Garlic: How to grow Garlic without Soil
Yes you can even grow garlic without using soil. Garlic shoots can be planted in water instead of soil, but to grow to full maturity it is easier to replant the shoots in soil so they can absorb all the nutrients they need.
It is possible to grow garlic purely in water, and many successful harvests can come from using a hydroponic gardening system. These systems are great for growing indoors, as you can control the flow and nutrients in the water (which is also acting as the soil) as well as the sunlight with artificial UV lights. Garlic can be a bit tricky though if you’re a hydroponics amateur – as it naturally prefers well – drained soil, and its leaves and roots grow quite long. The leaves can get plenty of sunlight as they grow upwards towards the light, whilst the roots may not get enough and start to rot.
Garlic chives are actually one of the most popular plants to grow in a hydroponic garden, as they require a lot more water than regular garlic to grow. If you just want to grow enough to add a bit of green garnish to your cooking, chives may be an easy alternative. Simply Hydro have a great tutorial on growing hydroponic chives here.
Are there different types of Garlic? Which one is best for me to grow?
There are many different types of Garlic available in the world – and the best type will usually be the one that grows the most locally to you. In North America, there are two common types:
Hardneck Garlics get their name because they grow a Scape (a hard long stem which grows a flower at the end) through the centre of the garlic bulb. The flower at the end of the Scape can be cut off and re-planted to grow more Garlic. A bulb of Hardneck Garlic typically has between 4-12 cloves of garlic, depending on the species. These cloves are usually an even shape and size. The Scape is edible as well.
Hardneck Garlic grows better in colder climates, with the scapes blooming in early summer. There are roughly three different sub-species of this kind of garlic – Rocambole, Purple Skin and Porcelain. Within these categories you can find Spanish Rojas, German Reds and Whites – Hardneck Garlic is considered by garlic aficionados to have a richer, spicier and more “garlicky taste.
The softneck variety of Garlic, as the name suggests, doesn’t grow a Scape. This type of garlic is normally grown in warmer areas with more mild winters. If you want to create some beautiful garlic braids, this is the variety for you. Softneck bulbs have a higher yield of cloves, but they may not be consistent in shape and size.
Their skin is usually softer and harder to peel than hardneck garlic, but can be delicious to cool and consume whole, for example in roast or a barbeque. Silverskins , Artichokes and Creole garlics are examples of the soft neck types.
When is the best time to plant Garlic? When is the best time to harvest it?
Garlic is usually planted in the Autumn or Fall, and harvested in the Midsummer. You can usually start harvesting the Scapes in early summer. Once you have harvested the bulb, you will need to be replant, as you will have harvested the whole plant.
Simple Tips on How to Grow Your Own Garlic
Garlic can easily be grown indoors with the right setup, here is a simple breakdown of the steps you need to follow to make it happen:
Pick the right spot
Once you have selected the type of garlic you wish to grow, the next step is to pick the best spot in your home to grow your garlic. Garlic loves sunlight, therefore growing garlic indoors works best if you can grow it on a windowsill. If this isn’t possible, try to pick the room which gets the most natural light. During the winter months when the light is least plentiful you may want to consider setting up indoor UV grow lights inside your home to help the growing process.
As I mentioned before in this article, not all garlic grows best in the same climate. Therefore you will need to find a space that keeps a consistent temperature which is appropriate for your plants.
How to grow garlic in a container
The best containers for growing garlic should around 12 inches deep to make space for the root of the garlic, and allow your plants to sit approximately 6-8 inches apart. Make sure that the top of the container is nice and open to allow plenty of sunlight to come in. High humidity is not required for growing garlic, so a greenhouse cover is not required.
Proper drainage is important as well, to prevent your garlic from getting Fusarium or other root rotting diseases. Pick a container with plenty of drainage holes and remember to regularly tip out the drainage tray if required. You can select a plastic tray or ceramic pot for growing similar to this as the material will not effect the growth of your garlic ( but it might affect the look of your home).
Select the right soil
Well drained fertile soil with a neutral pH is the best kind for growing garlic. Most garlics prefer soil with a neutral pH reading from about 6.5 -7. If your soil is more acidic, you can make it more alkaline it by mixing in a small amount of wood ashes. Use a mature compost to add fertility to your soil when planting, and add organic mulch like hay or torn up leaves as a top layer.
How to plant Garlic
You can plant garlic from a seed, or from a clove. Planting from a clove is perhaps less labor intensive, and is the easier way to re-plant after your first harvest. Garlic is a clever plant, each generation of plant adapts slightly better to the environment it is grown in, so your bulbs and yield improve with each harvest. Wait right up until you are ready to plant before you start peeling your cloves.
The soil you are planting into should already be mixed in well with approximately 1 inch of mature compost in order to create an inviting environment for your garlic to start growing. Push the cloves into the soil about 4 inches deep and 8 inches apart and cover with organic mulch. The cloves should be planted in the soil the same way up as they sit in the bulb – with the pointy end at the top, an the flat end (where the roots come out) at the bottom.
Growing and protecting from indoor pests
As I mentioned previously, like all plants garlic has it’s own set of predators and diseases which may affect your plant’s growth. The most common pests are Garlic Thrips, which are tiny bugs which make a small puncture in your garlic bulb to suck out the sap or juice of the bulb. This can weaken the plant and stunt its growth, as well as potentially passing bacteria from the pest to the garlic.
You can spot a Thrip infestation by looking at the leaves of your garlic – if they look scarred or discoloured you may have a pest problem. If you are looking for a natural pest control solution, you can try out this natural pest spray recipe here, which contains chilli, and would you believe, garlic cloves, as it’s active ingredient.
Garlic can suffer at the roots as well, from garlic maggots which can start breeding after a few harvests, or soil related diseases like Fusarium. Keeping well drained soil can help prevent both of these nasties, and a sprinkle of Diatomaceous Earth can help kill pests and create a drier environment for your plant to flourish.
Weeds are an annoyance for any plant owner, and however they can be easily dug out in a small container. Just make sure to be delicate with your digging fork, as you don’t want to damage the roots of your garlic plants.
Garlic plants prefer a fairly dry environment, but they will require a light misting of water from time to time, perhaps once a week but not much more. Keep an eye on your soil which should remain fairly dry, this will assist you in deciding if it is time to water. You can use a spray bottle to provide a light mist, or a garden hose on low pressure. You should stop watering your garlic a few weeks before it is time to harvest.
Mulching and Fertilizing Garlic
As I have mentioned previously, a nice layer of mulch on top of your soil will provide protection from the elements, retain moisture and maintain a good growing temperature for your plants. You can create your own mulch from items such as leaves and worm casings.
If you planted in the fall, your garlic should be ready to go in early – mid summer. Your garlic is ready to harvest when about a third of leaves have begun to go brown and wither, and the soil is dry. Loosen up the soil with your hands or digging fork, and gently pull the plants up out of the soil. Being gentle is important as you don’t want to bruise or damage the young garlics’ delicate skin.
Re – planting and curing garlic
Once you harvest your garlic plant, you can either cook and eat it straight away, re – plant or cure it. Curing is the process of drying the garlic for long term storage, so you can use it later or keep the bulbs for re-planting in the following fall season. Curing your garlic ensures that the energy and minerals from the leaves move into the bulbs as they dry.
To cure your garlic, once you have harvested lay your plants out in open to dry in a warm airy spot with shelter from the rain and direct sunlight. Young garlic bulbs, are surprisingly susceptible to sunburn. Leave the plants here to dry for about a week, then dust off all the excess soil and clip the roots to about an inch long. Do not wash your bulbs as the point is to dry them out. Leave them to dry for at least another week, sometimes a month if the weather is quite humid before clipping off the leaves or braiding them ( braiding is only for softneck varieties). Make sure not to remove the leaves whilst curing, as the bulbs draw away energy and nutrients from the leaves as part of the curing process, gradually drying them out. The leaves also protect the bulb from fungi and other bacteria during the process.
To finish, dust off the excess soil, and trim the leaves and roots to approx. ¼ to a ½ inch long. Peel off the excess skin until you are left with beautiful pure white (or red) bulbs. The largest and best looking bulbs should be kept aside for re-planting next years garlic!
Once you have finished all your curing, you can store your garlic in a number of ways. If you have planted softneck garlic, you can braid your garlic bulbs together and hang it up in your kitchen homestead style. If you would prefer something a bit less labor intensive, you can simply keep your bulbs in hanging mesh bags until you are ready to use them. Mesh bags are nice and soft and prevent bruising the delicate skin of your fresh home grown garlic. They are also nice and breathable, to keep your garlic dry and prevent unwanted mold and sprouting.
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