Experiments in Garlic Growing

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Before I begin, a confession: I did not plant garlic last fall. You are horrified. You are storming away from this website in horror.

Allow me to explain / make excuses. I managed to harvest my garlic early last fall and it was fantastic. The biggest and best garlic harvest we’ve ever had. I grew three varieties: ‘Music’, ‘Persian Star’, and ‘Siberian’. I think I liked the red skinned ‘Persian Star’ best. We had more garlic than we could eat in one season. I fully intended to separate the best and biggest cloves from the harvest to replant in the garden come October. But then October came. And there were deadlines. And I kept saying, I need to get that garlic in. But there was never enough time. I rarely left my desk. I barely had time to practice proper hygiene let alone plant garlic. And that is how the garlic did not get planted. Boo hoo.

Cut to early April when I spoke at the Seeds of Diversity 25th Anniversary. The event also hosted a number of seed and plant vendors, including a young farmer who raises and sells his own garlic. [Update: While cleaning my office, two months after the fact, I found the info sheet that came with the garlic. Wolf Grove Garlic, RR2, Almonte, Ontario] At the show, he was selling forced sprouted garlic that had already been hardened off (properly acclimated to the cold outdoors) and could be transplanted directly into the garden. I figured I might as well give it a try and bought eight plants in four different varieties: ‘Malpasse’, ‘Spanish Anatoli’, ‘French Red’, and a variety developed by his grandfather called, ‘Nono.’

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The roots were already beginning to push out through the bottom.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

I planted the garlic, pots and all, so that the garden soil was level with the top of the soil in the pots.

This should turn out to be a fun experiment. I’ve never done this before, having always planted my garlic in the fall. I had planned to plant some cloves in the early spring, as soon as the ground could be worked, in an attempt to get some garlic this year. By this late season method, the most I could hope for were tender garlic shoots and very immature little bulbs at best. I had absolutely no expectation of raising garlic to full maturity this year. But now I do. As long as the plants transplant well, I should have mature bulbs just a little bit later than usual in late summer/fall. I probably won’t have bulbs worth transplanting in the fall of October 2009, but I will have garlic. That’s nothing to scoff at.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Accidental garlic.

However, I did notice something interesting while digging holes to plant the garlic pots in. It turns out that I missed a bulb when harvesting last fall and I’ve got garlic growing after-all. Based on where it is sprouting, the variety must be ‘Music’. Unfortunately, the sprouts are all clumped together, but I’m going to leave them as-is as another experiment in what happens when garlic is accidentally left in the ground to grow on its own.


Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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22 thoughts on “Experiments in Garlic Growing

  1. You’re funny! I planted garlic for the first time last fall and am eager to see and taste the results..I have no idea what variety I planted! I hope yours turns out great :)

  2. Too bad you didn’t accidently leave two bulbs in the ground. Then you could see what happens when you leave it alone, and what happens if you dig it up, seperate the shoots, and replant.

  3. Well, in theory the full bulb that left in accidentally probably won’t produce bulbs since each clove is so close together… there is no space for full bulbs to develop. But there is theory and then there is actually doing. I like to try all possibilities to see for myself.

  4. Gayla, last year I harvested a whole bunch of ‘forgotten’ garlic from the year before. It was all clumped together like yours is in the picture. Basically I got a whole bunch of very small, misshapen bulbs but they worked out fine for cooking and eating. I hope yours does too!

  5. I have garlic, onions and leeks all growing where I expected none this year. So I have a bit of an experiment happening, too. At least something young and green is growing out there!

  6. I spent a total of 9 hours in a single day cleaning garlic last Summer when I was working up at Everdale farm. I have an incredible amount of respect for all things garlic. I don’t know how I thought garlic grew before this experience but I am willing to pay whatever is being asked for locally grown garlic. That one is work!

  7. I picked up three varieties from this farmer at Seedy Saturday, including the ‘Spanish Anatoli’ and ‘Nono’. I also joyfully bought three alpine strawberry plants from him too!

    I forget his name too (I’m terrible with names), but the contact info on the garlic literature is:

    Wolf Grove Garlic
    RR#2 Alamonte, ON
    K0A 1A0



  8. I did the same thing with four burgundy onion bulbs last fall. Just forgot about them. Or rather, forgot to harvest in that area. And now I have funny looking onions that are growing at funny angles. Should be interesting!

  9. Oh, good. I just came here because I found the “garlic guy” info from Seedy Saturday but someone beat me to it. He was selling garlic starts then, too. And the look in his eye when he talks about garlic – I love a grower who’s passionate about his product!

    (I, too, neglected to put in garlic – I’m growing from seed and bulbils this spring and seeing what I can do at least in terms of green garlic and yummy scapes…)

  10. Oh – just noticed a name and email addy on the Wolf Grove garlic flyer. His name is “Peter W.” – please get in touch if you want the email address.

  11. I was just thinking of trying to plant some garlic bulbs in my soon to be created first vegetable garden! I was wondering if it would work so thanks for all the new info. Do you know if the pest-repelling properties of garlic will be in effect if I plant little bulbs even if I won’t get a good crop this year?

  12. I am anxious to see how this turns out for you. We also have a little garlic experiment going on. We took some store bought garlic that started to sprout and put it in the ground. Judging by the tops, it appears to be doing well. We will be planting a proper backup though.

  13. Julie: One of the problems with store-bought is that it is often less hardy soft-neck garlic. Depends on your climate whether you can grow it successfully or not.

    Andrea: Will still be fine.

  14. A head of organic garlic now costs ï¿¥400 here. The other alternative is a kilo of Chinese grown for less than half the price.
    Looks like there be scapes for dinner soon, but the plants look all top and no bottom.

  15. Tricina: You can grow in containers (You can even start now if you want), although you’ll probably only get “green garlic” which is essentially young garlic…. subtle and delicious! I have grown to full bulbing size on the roof but that was in a planter box.

  16. This is my first year with garlic and I just planted some late April and they seem to be growing well. Should I harvest green garlic in the fall? Or leave it for next year?

  17. Suzanne: You can harvest green garlic whenever you want, although it will be more tender earlier in the season. The stalks will grow thicker and tougher as the season progresses.

  18. Thanks! And I suppose if I’m going to harvest them green I can plant more densely. I have more starter cloves that I didn’t have space for, and now I’m thinking I can stick them between the ones I planted.

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