Sourcing Quality Seed Garlic:

When we talk about planting seeds, we often envision small, round, black pellets. But in the case of seed garlic, we’re actually talking about planting individual cloves from a garlic bulb. So, where should you source your garlic seed? Look no further than your local garden supply store. Opt for garlic seed that has been grown nearby, as this ensures it’s well-suited to your regional climate. The best seed garlic bulbs are sizable, measuring at least 2 to 3 inches in diameter. With a myriad of garlic varieties available, each offering unique traits, consider seeking advice from fellow local gardeners on their favorite varieties or prioritize characteristics that matter most to you. The beauty of garlic is that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ choice; it’s all about what suits your preferences.

Avoid Grocery Store Garlic:

It’s common for novice gardeners to purchase garlic from their local grocery store and attempt to plant it in their gardens. However, this isn’t recommended for several reasons. Grocery store garlic may not be the right fit for your specific growing region, and it may have undergone treatments to prolong its shelf life and prevent sprouting. These treatments can hinder garlic from reaching its full potential as a mature plant. Even if grocery store garlic manages to sprout and grow, it’s unlikely the bulbs will attain their full size, flavor, and nutritional value.

Planting Tips:

In the Gallatin Valley, the ideal time to plant garlic is in mid-October, as it thrives during the winter. While it might be tempting to plant garlic earlier in the fall, doing so can lead to excessive growth, making the bulbs susceptible to winter damage. Garlic thrives in loose, well-drained soil. Leave the papery outer layers intact on the cloves and plant them root side down, about 4-5 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. This roughly equates to nine cloves per square foot when using the ‘Square Foot Gardening’ method. Using a bulb planter like Bond’s Classic Bulb Planter or a Dibber can simplify the process. After planting, water the garlic and cover it with a mulch like Garden Straw Certified Organic Mulch in the fall to shield the cloves from harsh winter temperatures.

Fertilizing for Success:

To achieve robust, nutrient-rich garlic bulbs, you’ll need to fertilize them appropriately. Bone Meal (such as Down to Earth’s Bone Meal 3-15-0 or Down to Earth’s Fish Bone Meal) should be added to the transplant hole in the fall during planting. You can also broadcast bone meal over the entire garden before planting. Garlic requires a modest amount of nitrogen for healthy scape growth and more significant doses of phosphorus and calcium to support bulb development. Fertilization can resume in the spring after the snow has melted, but avoid it beyond May’s end, as continued fertilization can lead to excessive scape production and lower-quality bulbs.

Harvesting Timing:

Most garlic varieties grown and sold in Montana are hardneck garlic, which produce edible scapes during their spring growth. Many garlic varieties begin scape growth at the end of June and into July.  Harvest these scapes to redirect energy back into bulb formation. Once the scapes have been harvested, observe the garlic plant’s leaves, which will begin to brown off. When roughly half of the leaves have dried and turned brown, it’s time to harvest the garlic bulbs. In Montana, this typically occurs from late July to mid-August. Handle the garlic with care during the harvest, as it bruises easily.

Curing and Storing Your Garlic:

Garlic bulbs can be stored throughout the winter. When you’re ready to harvest, pull up the entire plant and gently remove any soil from the bulbs using a stream of water. To cure your garlic, allow the bulbs to air dry for 2-6 weeks until the outer layers become papery and the stem hardens. This can be achieved by hanging garlic from the ceiling or rafters in a garage or placing it on a rack in a location shielded from direct sunlight but with temperatures between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the outer layers become papery and brittle, trim the stem, leaving about 2 inches for easy peeling, and remove the roots. Store your garlic in a well-ventilated area, and enjoy it all winter long!

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