Head over heels for garlic
Gather the largest, best-formed cloves of garlic. Garlic cloves are essentially clones of their garlic plant, so you want to pick the cloves that look the best. That way, they’ll produce big n’ healthy cloves just like their forefathers and mothers. So grab a nice looking head of garlic and pull its cloves apart, making sure to leave the papery husk on each individual clove (sometimes this is easier said than done, but it helps protect the cloves from disease and pests once in the soil). Then put aside the ones with the nicest shape – you know, the ones you really want to chop up and eat. Those are the ones you’ll want to plant.
It’s best to plant garlic cloves that are from garlic you or a friend grew or to buy seed garlic. Although technically you can plant cloves from grocery store garlic, it may not be a variety that is well-suited to grow in Montana, or it may have been treated which will make it harder to grow. If you don’t have trusted garlic to plant this season, purchasing some seed garlic online or at a local nursery could be well worth the investment because next year you can save that garlic to plant for the following year (no additional expense necessary). It’ll be a garlic revolution! (Or maybe just a new garlic-y tradition for you and your family….)
Plant in well-drained soil and rotate your garlic beds. Garlic doesn’t like to be over-saturated and will benefit from being rotated to different garden beds from year to year to help it fend off disease (although garlic is relatively disease and pest-resistant). Once you’ve chosen your garlic bed, plant the cloves you set aside into the bed. The cloves should be placed about 1-2 inches down into the soil, with the pointy end facing up, and they should be planted about 4-6 inches apart from each other. You can lightly water your garlic in at this point.
Mulch after planting. Mulching your garlic bed with 4-6 inches of straw will protect the cloves from extreme temperatures over the winter. If your garlic is exposed to many freeze-thaw cycles it can either rot or be pushed to the surface, where it won’t germinate.
Voila! You’re work is done for the time being. In early spring you’ll see small shoots of green emerging from the bed of straw and this will let you know your garlic is doing just fine. At this point, you’ll want to keep the garlic bed well-weeded and moist (but not waterlogged).
If you planted a hard-neck variety of garlic, scapes will form in spring that can be harvested for an early garlic treat.
When the leaves and stalks start to dry out, it is starting to get ready for harvest. It’s a good idea to stop watering your garlic once it gets to this point. Once 3 or 4 of its leaves are yellow, usually around August or so, the garlic is ready to be harvested.
And to carry on your garlic tradition, save some of your garlic for re-planting for the following year’s harvest!