Do you love garlic in your meals? You’ll love it even more when you pull fresh garlic bulbs from your garden next year.
Garlic is planted in Michigan in October. It grows a little before the ground cools down. In spring it is one of the first leaves to sprout from the ground. Garlic leaves grow during April, May and June. The lower leaves begin to turn brown in July. This is a sign that the big bulb of tasty goodness is waiting underground.
We plant the garlic in the fall and harvest the bulbs in the middle of next summer.
Now is the time to find the garlic bulbs that will grow here in Michigan. Tiffany Gregory of Great Lakes Garlic Farm in Buckley, Michigan, near Traverse City, says she wants to plant cloves from a mature garlic bulb that was grown in Michigan this year. Gregory says that the farm’s garlic bulbs for planting start selling in July, right after the harvest. She advises us to go to our local farmers markets. If you see garlic for sale, ask the farmer if it was grown in Michigan this summer. If so, that garlic bulb will have the cloves you want to plant.
Garlic bulbs are made up of six to eight individual cloves. Peel off the outer skin that holds the entire bulb together. Then carefully separate the bulb into individual cloves. Each of these individual cloves will plant and grow into a large bulb next summer.
The nail has a base and a top, and must be planted in the correct direction. Garlic will grow in many different soils, but it probably won’t do well in very heavy, wet clay. If you have that kind of heavy clay soil in your garden, you could try building the soil up to six inches to get the nails out of standing water. You will need to heavily cover the accumulated soil so that it does not freeze over the winter.
Otherwise, if you have just about any Michigan soil that will produce a decent garden, you can grow garlic.
Prepare the soil by digging up to a foot deep and making the soil nice and fluffy. Anything with the fruits of its labor underground likes that deep, loose soil. Gregory advises mixing some compost or composted manure into the soil.
Plant the bulb three inches deep. Remember to plant the base of the tooth down. Most likely, the bottom already has some fibrous roots. The top is pointed and may even have a green beak at this time of year.
Gregory says to plant the garlic in October. She recommends mid-October. The goal is for the clove to develop a good set of roots before the ground freezes. I found that at the end of September it worked for me. To test what works best, we could stagger the plant on September 20, October 1, and October 15.
Plant the cloves about six inches apart and space the rows far enough apart to get in and weed properly. A 10-foot row will give you 20 bulbs of garlic. If you are a large family that eats garlic, you may need a 20-foot row. Remember: each bulb will have six to eight cloves.
Water the planted cloves several times this fall. Mulch the top of the garlic. Raked leaves from our gardens work great as mulch to keep the ground from freezing if it’s a cold winter without much snow.
Great Lakes Garlic Farm grows organic garlic, so they can’t use the regular bagged fertilizer. They use Morgan Composting’s Dairy Doo, along with other organic soil amendments. If you want to fertilize planted garlic with easy-to-find granular fertilizer, use a balanced fertilizer in April when you see the tips emerging from the soil. I think a 12-12-12 or 19-19-19 fertilizer would work fine. It is a quick release fertilizer so another round of fertilizer should be applied at the end of May.
The tips will grow and look almost like an onion. The longest days in May and June indicate that the garlic is beginning to form a bulb. Keep plants watered. Keeps area free of weeds for large bulbs.
In July, the lower leaves will gradually turn yellow. This is a sign that the garlic bulb below may be ripe. Gregory says that each leaf is a covering of the envelope around the bulb. She advises harvesting in July when there are four to six leaves on the plant.
When you harvest your garlic bulbs next year, you’ll have your seed stock to plant in October. That is if any are left uneaten.