Growing Garlic In A Permaculture Garden


Harvesting Garlic

Few plants will make you feel more like a successful green thumb gardener than garlic. I personally find it to be one of the most fulfilling and useful plants to grow on my permaculture homestead.

A Little About Garlic

Garlic is a bulbous plant from the Allium or Onion family. Garlic is closely related to onions, shallots, leeks, and even Lillies. Garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran but is grown all over the world with more than 450 varieties. As much as we love growing garlic in the U.S. the fact is at least 76% of the world’s supply of garlic is grown in China.

History

According to the Oxford Academic Journal of Nutrition, garlic has been cultivated and used as a culinary herb and a medicinal herb for thousands of years all around the world. Garlic even made its way to early America being referred to as a medicinal herb. Garlic was recommended as a diuretic, for the treatment of infections, as a general tonic, and for asthma and other pulmonary disorders in 1878 in a book written by John Gunn titled “The Home Book of Health”.

Garlic was called Russian penicillin during World War II because when the Russian government ran out of antibiotics they used this ancient treatment for its soldiers. The British government also adopted this practice during the war because of its effectiveness.

Garlic Bulbs

The bulbs of garlic grow underground and can produce anywhere from 4 to 20 cloves depending on the garlic type and variety. Clove numbers can also be affected by the health of the plant and the growing conditions. The garlic cloves are the main part of the bulb, they are separated and wrapped in paperlike protective sheaths. A single garlic clove can be planted and grown into an entire bulb.

Garlic Scapes

The scape grows from the underground stem and will become the bulbil and flower stalk in later stages of the plant’s growth. Usually, only hardneck varieties of garlic will grow a scape. Once the scape starts curling downward it can be harvested and used in culinary dishes that require a mild garlic taste.

Bulbils

When the garlic plant bolts a bulbil is produces from the scape on hardneck varieties. Bublbils can vary in size and color depending on the garlic variety. This is where garlic seeds are produced alongside the flowers of the garlic plant. They are edible but are generally just used for seed production.

Garlic Bulbil

Random Facts

  • Garlic is toxic to dogs and cats.
  • You can get rid of garlic breath by drinking lemon juice or eating lemon slices.
  • Garlic is a natural adhesive that is used In China as glue for glass and porcelain.
  • There have been studies that show that eating garlic may result in fewer mosquito and tick bites.

Why You Should Grow Garlic

Easy To Grow

Most gardeners agree that garlic is among the easiest of plants to grow in your garden. From planting to caring for to harvesting, it really is a rewarding experience when you consider the Work-Involved/Value-Received ratio.

Easy To Store

If spending hours to days in a hot kitchen prepping and canning your harvests for months of storage isn’t your favorite part of homesteading then garlic should be your plant of choice. It has a minimal amount of requirements to get it to preserve months in the pantry.

Garden Benefits

This will be discussed in more detail later in the article but garlic can actually benefit your garden. Garlic can be good as a companion plant for a variety of reasons and it can also be good for your soil.

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Culinary Benefits

This really goes without saying but garlic makes most things better in the kitchen. Having garlic that came from your garden hanging in your pantry to be quickly accessed and used in your dishes whenever you want is enough of a reason alone to grow garlic.

Health Benefits

The list of health benefits of garlic is long but a couple of the most common proven benefits include active compounds that can lower blood pressure and even improve cholesterol. There are also many studies that show garlic possibly helps fight colds, helps prevent dementia, detoxes your body of heavy metals, and improves bone health.

Which Garlic Variety Should You Plant?

Garlic Varieties

Choosing the right garlic variety will depend on what qualities you are looking for but it might also depend on where you live as some varieties are more cold-hardy than others. While other garlic varieties may be more delicate to growing conditions they may also store better long term.

Softneck Garlic

  • The softneck garlic varieties are less cold-hardy and more suited for warmer climates.
  • Generally, softneck garlic produces more cloves than hardneck and stores much longer.
  • Softneck garlic doesn’t usually produce a scape and the stems stay soft allowing them to be braided easily.
  • Softneck garlic has a more mild flavor than hardneck varieties.

There are two main types of softneck garlic

  • Silverskin – Stronger flavor and longest storage time.
  • Artichoke – Larger cloves with a more mild flavor.

Hardneck Garlic

  • The hardneck garlic varieties are more cold-hardy and suited for more harsh winters.
  • Produce fewer but usually larger cloves than softneck varieties.
  • Produces a scape and bulbil for seeds.
  • More flavorful than softneck varieties.

There are three main types of hardneck garlic

  • Purple stripe – Best for baking. Named because of the distinctive bright purple streaks on their papery sheaths.
  • Porcelain – Rich taste and very large cloves. Longest storing hardneck varieties, around 8 months.
  • Rocambole – Very rich and robust taste and peels easily.
garlic scape
Hardneck Garlic Scape

Elephant Garlic

I mention this because there seems to be some confusion surrounding Elephant Garlic. The truth is it’s actually not a true garlic. It is often confused with Porcelain Hardneck Garlic. It does have a taste similar to true garlic though more mild or even bland. Elephant garlic is actually closer related to leeks and doesn’t have the same health benefits as true garlic.

Where To Grow Garlic

Growing Zones

Although there are techniques you can use to expand the growings zones of the garlic type you are wanting to grow these are the ideal USDA Hardiness Zones and Chill Hours for vernalization.

Hardneck GarlicHardiness Zones 3-78-12 Weeks of Chill Hours
Softneck GarlicHardiness Zones 6-100 to Minimal Amount*
*I was actually unable to find any data on chill hours for softneck garlic but many say it needs some for vernalization.

Soil and Sun Requirements

Soil pHOptimal ph: 6.0 to 7.0
Soil TypeWell-drained, moisture-retentive soil.
Nutrient RequirementsHeavy Feeder. Fertilize with rich compost.
Sun RequirementsFull Sun

Companions For Garlic

When choosing a companion plant for your garlic you have to consider the benefits garlic offers the plant but also what the other plant can do for the garlic.

A few common garlic companions

Companion PlantReasons For Integration
TomatoesPest and Fungal Control
PeppersFungal Control
CabbagePest Control
Fruit TreesPest and Fungal Control
SpinachBenefits garlic by supplying ground cover
BrassicasPest Control
PotatoesPest and Fungal Control

Where You Should Avoid Planting Garlic

Shade

When you are choosing where to plant your garlic you will need to consider how much sunlight the plants will get both now and when surrounding plants are fully grown. Garlic needs as much sun as it can get to grow well so try to plant it on the south side of taller plants if companion planting in the northern hemisphere.

Companions To Avoid

Though not scientifically verified there seems to be a consensus among many gardeners that garlic can stunt the growth of some plants or the companion can stunt the growth of the garlic. You may want to run your own experiments but these are a few companions you may want to avoid with your garlic.

  • Beans
  • Asparugus
  • Sage
  • Strawberries
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Parsley

How To Plant Garlic

Preparing The Soil

The soil you choose to plant garlic in should be rich (add compost if necessary) and well-draining but loamy enough to have good moisture retention. The location should be free of weeds and in full sun.

Planting The Cloves

In the fall when the soil is still warm, preferably at least a few weeks before a freeze. Separate the cloves from the bulb and space the garlic a minimum of 6 inches apart. If planting in rows then keep the rows about 12 inches apart.

Plant the cloves root side down about 2 inches deep then water the bed generously and apply mulch.

Mulch can be compost, manure, hay, or straw. Some gardeners even apply a layer of wood chips to the bed. The mulch will help insulate the soil and help with water retention and weed suppression.

Plantic Garlic

Growing Garlic From Seed

This is not a common practice for most garlic growers, however, if you would like to try your hand at growing garlic from true seed I will refer you to an article on collecting, preparing, and planting garlic seeds – LEARN TO PROPERLY COLLECT AND GROW TRUE GARLIC SEED

Caring For Garlic

In the spring as your garlic begins to grow, water it well, remove weeds from the bed if necessary and apply a light side-dress of compost.

If you planted a hardneck variety your garlic will begin to grow a scape that can and should be harvested as it begins to curl downward. Letting the scape continue to grow can inhibit the growth of the bulb by using up valuable energy from the nutrients. The scapes will also provide an excellent addition to meals also.

When To Plant Garlic

As stated above, garlic should be planted In the fall when the soil is still warm, preferably at least a few weeks before a freeze. This of course comes at a different time depending on where you live.

When do you plant garlic in your zone? Here are some suggested dates on when to plant for your zone.

Hardiness ZoneGarlic VarietyPlanting Dates
3-5HardneckLate August to Late September
6-7Hardneck and SoftneckLate September to Late October
8-9SoftneckNovember
9-10SoftneckDecember

When To Harvest Garlic

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are an early culinary gift of your hardneck garlic. When the scapes start curling they are at their best for harvesting. As they mature further they will start to straighten out, at this point they are not nearly as tender and should be removed but not best for eating.

Harvesting Garlic Bulbs

There are a couple of ways to determine when your garlic is ready to harvest. If you are growing a hardneck variety the scape can help you determine when it is ready. Generally about 30 days after you harvest the scape at the curling stage the garlic bulb will be ready to harvest.

The other way to tell is by observing the leaves, when the lower 2-4 leaves turn from green to yellow or brown then the bulbs are ready to harvest.

To harvest the garlic bulbs use a garden digging fork to loosen the soil before pulling on the stem and remove the bulbs from the soil.

True Temper 2812200 4-Tine Spading Digging Fork with 30 in. Hardwood D-Grip Handle, 30 Inch
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Leave the soil intact on the bulbs while you’re curing the bulbs and if you have plenty then set aside the largest bulbs for the next planting in the fall.

Curing Garlic

To cure the garlic you will need to put it on drying racks or hang it up. You can tie bundles of garlic together with nylon string and hang it in a barn with good airflow or spread the garlic out on screens or chicken wire to dry. Using fans will help to cure the garlic quicker by ensuring good airflow.

The garlic needs to cure from 3-6 weeks or until the neck of the garlic is completely dry. You should be able to roll the neck between your fingers and tell if there is any moisture at all. If it isn’t completely dry let it cure longer.

Once the garlic is completely cured you can cut it at the neck or use the leaves to braid the garlic together to have in the pantry or kitchen.

Braided Garlic

Garlic Checks The Permaculture Boxes

Garlic is a great plant for the permaculture garden or food forest because it checks a few of the boxes we look at when considering what we want to grow.

Integration

Garlic is a great companion plant for many things because it benefits and receives benefits from its plant partners. In permaculture, Integration rather than segregation is an important concept as we like to see the symbiotic relationship working for the benefit of the plants and us.

Function Stacking

In permaculture design, it’s important to get as many functions from every element in the layout as possible to be as productive as possible. Garlic does this by providing more than just culinary delights. Garlic can be medicinal, can improve the soil by accumulating sulfur which works as a natural fungicide, and deters pests and larger mammals that want to eat your garden.

When we consider plants that exemplify the concept of function stacking then garlic has to be on the list.

Obtain A Yield

Another key concept of permaculture is that of obtaining a yield. As I said at the beginning of this article. There are only a few crops that will make you feel like more of a successful gardener than garlic. It grows easy and stores well and even with limited space you can grow enough garlic to provide for yourself year-round and perhaps even give some away or sell it for a profit.

Sustainability

Garlic is such a great crop for sustainability. It’s easy to save enough cloves for the next fall’s replanting ensuring you will always have a returning crop large enough to supply your needs.

Should You Be Growing Garlic On Your Permaculture Homestead?

Probably so! I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t.

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Harold Thornbro

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Public Speaker, Teacher, Homesteading and Permaculture Enthusiast. If You're Looking For Me, You'll Find Me In The Garden.

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