Planting Garlic and Garlic Scallions

 

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

I have often written about garlic, and here I am going to focus on planting garlic. But before that, I want to encourage you to make the most of the opportunity to also plant a bonus crop: garlic scallions.

  • Garlic scallions are very little work,
  • They come with no extra cost,
  • They provide a very tasty and visually attractive crop.
  • They will be ready to harvest in the Hungry Gap, the early spring period before any new crops are ready to harvest, when our palates are tiring of stored roots and hardy leafy greens.
  • You may have run out of garlic bulbs and be craving that strong flavor to brighten your meals.
  • Ours are ready to harvest from March 10 until we run out or they are visibly bulbing up (April 30?).
  • If you are selling crops, garlic scallions can bring a big return for a small bunch, because most people will be happy with 3-6 garlic scallions.
  • Both garlic scallions and Garlic Scapes can extend your garlic sales season.
Garlic scallions prepared for sale. Typepad.com

The easiest time to plant garlic scallions is right after your main planting for garlic bulbs, in the fall. In preparation for planting your garlic cloves for bulbs, break apart the bulbs and sort the cloves. You won’t grow large bulbs of garlic from tiny cloves, so you’ll want to separate out the good ones for bulbs. Put the tiny cull cloves in small buckets and save them to grow garlic scallions. Much more productive than throwing them on the compost pile!

You can also plant for garlic scallions at other times of year. I don’t know what the limits are. You can certainly plant in a hoophouse later in the fall than you could plant outdoors. You can certainly plant softneck varieties outdoors for scallions in January (weather permitting) or February.

Some growers are finding they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, and so they are working to extend the garlic scallion season.

As an alternative to planting small cloves, you can plant whole cull bulbs, and turn a misfortune into a windfall. I don’t mean bulbs with fungal infections, but bulbs that ended up too small to sell, or use at home. Plant the small bulbs at a wider spacing than tiny cloves, maybe 5″-6″ (12-15 cm) apart. You’ll grow ready-made bunches of garlic scallions!

Garlic scallions in February. Photo Pam Dawling

Planting Garlic Scallions

  • We plant small cloves for garlic scallions in early November immediately after planting our maincrop garlic.
  • We choose a small space that is easily accessible in late winter and early spring, where we often walk by.
  • We make 3″ (7.5 cm) deep furrows with a hoe, only about 2″ (5 cm) apart. A lot fits in a small space.
  • We tumble the small cloves into the furrows, any way up, shoulder to shoulder.
  • We close the furrows, tamp down the soil, and cover with a mulch of spoiled hay. Tree leaves or straw would also work.
  • Some growers have experimented with replanting small whole cull bulbs. This could be a good way to salvage value from a poorly-sized garlic harvest.
  • Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted January-March. By planting later than this, it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later.
  • Some growers find they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic.
Garlic scallions ready to harvest outdoors in late March. Think what might work in a hoophouse! Photo Pam Dawling

Harvesting Garlic Scallions

We harvest garlic scallions from early March until May. 3/10 to 5/15 or later in central Virginia

  • Once the plants are 7″–8″ (18–20 cm) tall
  • We simply loosen the plants with a digging fork (rather than just pulling) and lift the whole plants out of the ground.
  • We trim the roots, rinse, bundle, and set them in a small bucket with a little water.
  • Scallions can be sold in bunches of three to six depending on their size.
  • Some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks.
  • We tried this, but prefer to harvest whole plants.
  • We grow a lot of bulb garlic and have a lot of tiny cloves available, hence a lot of garlic scallion plants.
  • Our springs are short and don’t really provide opportunity to make multiple harvests.
  • The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove.
  • If you do have more than you can use fresh, they can be chopped and dried, or frozen for making pesto later in the year.
Harvesting garlic scapes in May
Photo by Wren Vile

Other Posts About Garlic

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic posted in June 2020 includes many, many links on all stages of garlic growing. And to sum it all up see My Garlic Slideshow

See Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity posted in May 2021. It includes many links for those deciding which kinds of garlic to grow

Much about garlic is to be found in my Alliums for the Month Series from 2018-2019. The April 2019 post gives links to each of them.

Planting garlic in November. Photo Brittany Lewis

Planting Garlic

  • Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields).
  • Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.
  • Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition. Bulbs should be separated into cloves 0–7 days before planting.
  • Planting deeper helps keep the garlic at a steadier temperature (milder during the winter, cooler once spring heats up)
  • When properly planted and mulched, garlic can withstand winter lows of -30°F (-35°C).
  • Garlic roots grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).
  • If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the bulbs will not divide into separate cloves.
  • Plant garlic in cold areas with the goal of getting a good amount of root growth before winter has a firm grip, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the weather.
  • In warm areas, zones 7 and warmer, the goal is to get enough top growth in fall to get off to a roaring start in the spring, but not so much that the leaves cannot endure the winter.
  • If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can regrow and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will be lower than it might have been if you had been luckier with the weather.
Grey Duck Garlic logo
  • Grey Duck Garlic has a helpful chart by USDA winter-hardiness zone. I’ve combined their information with that I gathered previously.
  • In zones 0-3, if no permafrost, plant garlic in September.
  • In zones 3b-5, plant late-September to early-October. Plant 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. Another way of counting is 6 weeks before the ground freezes.
  • In zones 5-7, plant in the second half of October. If your area does not normally get seasonally frozen ground, you could plant later.
  • In zones 7-9, plant in early-mid November; up till late November in zone 9.
  • In zones 9 and 10, look for soil to be less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep – garlic can be planted in December or even as late as February if you have vernalized the planting stock. (Vernalization for hardneck garlic = 6 weeks of cold temperature below 40-45°F/4-7°C; softneck is less demanding) Without sufficient vernalization, the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).
  • In zones 11-13, I think plant in January or February after vernalization – check with local growers or your Extension Service, as there’s very little info out there. Also see the section below on growing garlic in the tropics. See Grey Duck Farm’s Southern Garlic Grower’s Guide by Susan Fluegel
  • If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter.
  • If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.
Garlic beds next to rowcovered broccoli beds, under a stormy sky.
Photo Wren Vile

Garlic Growth Stages

Garlic and onions are biennial crops grown as annuals. They have 3 distinct phases of growth: vegetative, bulbing and blooming (bolting) The switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors. It is important to understand that it does not work to plant onions or garlic at a random date in the year.

  1. Vegetative growth (roots and leaves). For large bulbs it is important to produce large healthy plants before the vegetative stage gives way to the bulbing stage. If planted in spring, garlic plants will be small when bulbing starts, and only small bulbs are possible.
  2. Bulbing is initiated when the daylight reaches the critical number of hours. Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above 13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. The rate of bulbing is more rapid with high light intensity and increased temperature.
  3. Flowering (Garlic scapes): Scapes are the hard central flower stems of hardneck garlic. Removing the scapes can increase the bulb size 25%, and also provides an additional food crop. In general, plant flowering is triggered by some combination of enough vernalization (chilling hours – maybe 10 weeks below 40°F/4.5°C), plant maturity, daylength and temperature. In cold weather the plants suppress the flowering signal. When the daylength and the temperature are both right, they trigger flowering.
Additional Stages:

Fattening up: Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth.

Drying down: Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and starts the drying down process.

Popping garlic for replanting at Twin Oaks.
Photo Bell Oaks

Garlic drying and curing methods

Hanging garlic of many varieties (and onions) in bunches.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I’m prompted to write about garlic drying and curing by an inquiry from a reader in Idaho. Their family has a new garlic business and they need to upgrade their drying and curing method. This year they have planted 3 acres (12 varieties), so they really need a method that will be reliable. Do leave a comment if you have suggestions. Here I’ll review methods I know about, for areas from backyard to small commercial size.

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

I also think this is a good time of year to plan and construct infrastructure you will need later in the season, when planting, cultivating and harvesting have top priority. First, so you know when you’ll need the space ready, here are some links to information to help with that.

When and How to Harvest Garlic

Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Signs of garlic maturity: Alliums for May

Alliums for June: planting leeks, harvesting garlic and bulb onions

Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. The drying down process is started by hot weather above 91°F (33°C) which ends bulb growth. In tropical latitudes where daylength does not vary much, it may be that temperature is a bigger trigger and daylength is less important. See Alliums for May for more

Harvesting garlic: Garlic Harvest step by Step

Methods for Drying and Curing Garlic

Faragut Farm in Alaska dries their garlic in a hoophouse (but beware of over-heating )
Photo Chris Blanchard

Growers of small amounts of garlic (or complicated harvests of relatively small amounts of many varieties) sometimes tie the garlic plants in bundles and hang them from nails or hooks in beams. This method takes a lot of twine, and can be slow.

Garlic spread to dry on an upper story wood barn floor.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We once spread a single layer of garlic on a wood upstairs floor of the barn, when our harvest exceeded our storage racks. “Shingle” the garlic plants so that the bulbs and roots are all uppermost, for best airflow.

Garlic hanging in vertical netting.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We hang our garlic in nylon netting fastened vertically around the walls of our old tobacco barn. This is a good method for humid areas as the garlic is in a single layer and can get good airflow. Other growers have used chicken wire or snow fencing. We have considered making free-standing frames covered in netting, so we can deal with higher yields. The walls of the barn limit the amount we can hang there. It’s a slower method than laying plants on horizontal racks.

Garlic in vertical netting and onions on stackable wood racks.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier.

Horizontal racks need to be sturdy. We made stackable wood slatted racks to dry our bulb onions, as onion necks are not strong enough to hang onions by. Later we made larger netted wood frames that we hang from a pulley in the beams. We can fill them layer by layer, starting at the lowest one, and gradually lower the upper racks as we need to fill them. This kind of system would work for garlic too, but is not practical on a large scale.

Bulb onions curing on a rack.
Photo Wren Vile

Horizontal racks can either have the garlic threaded bulbs up through the holes of the netting (as we do for onions), or the plants laid flat, shingled. Shingling saves space (racks can be closer to each other vertically) but it is harder to dry garlic this way in a humid climate.

For a nice design of racks for drying onions, and perhaps garlic, see this post about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia

Onion racks at the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia (their photo)
Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step with Vertical Netting

Hang your garlic to cure for 3-6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic, your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. See my book Sustainable Market Farming.

  1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic when the time comes to trim it. We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting hanging around the walls of our barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
Garlic threaded into vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

2. We start at knee height, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the netting. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.)

3. Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.

4. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4-6 ft wide strip per person, working upwards.

5. We continue as high as we can reach before moving to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.

6. Damaged bulbs are “Farm Use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry.

7. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.

After curing, this garlic has dry necks and is ready to snip and store. Photo Wren Vile

8. Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.

In 2016, we pondered whether a ground floor shed or an upstairs barn offers the better airflow, and whether better airflow is worth hauling all the garlic upstairs and down again. We didn’t come to a conclusion, but we didn’t find time to build a new barn.

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

You won’t need this for  a while, but it’s helpful to have next steps in mind when designing your hanging and curing space – see the link to Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth News post on sweet potatoes which includes the question of how to tell when the garlic is cured, and setting up, snipping and sorting garlic into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the same high temperature range as bulb onions, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40-55°F (5-13°C). The key to good storage is dry necks

For pictures of our onion drying racks see Alliums for July: harvest minor alliums, finish harvesting bulb onions, snip and sort garlic and bulb onions.

If weather prevents gardening and farming, knit your own garlic potholders and felt them! Photo Pam Dawling