Select an area of your garden that has good drainage. In early September, prepare the ground by cultivating or loosening the soil with hand tools to a depth of 4-6 inches and removing any weeds. About the third week in September, plant the garlic by placing individual cloves, with the pointed end up, 1½ to 2 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart. Garlic shoots will appear 2-3 inches above ground usually in about 4 weeks, before the cold weather arrives.
Be sure to mulch around the shoots with leaves or straw to protect the plants during the winter. Once cold weather arrives, the garlic will remain dormant until spring. When the frost is out of the ground and the shoots begin to grow again, give the plants a side dressing of fertilizer to encourage their growth. (Place the fertilizer 4-6 inches on either side of the bulbs to avoid ‘burning’ the bulbs.) Irrigate and cultivate the garlic periodically. When the plants have matured and the shoots are about to turn yellow (in early June), stop watering and allow the ground to dry out. When the top growth is brittle and the ground is dry, it is time to harvest.
Choose a sunny, dry day for harvesting. Undercut the garlic and loosen the soil to remove the bulbs. Be careful when pulling the bulbs that you do not damage the skin or pulp. Allow the garlic to dry out on top of the ground as you harvest it. Rub off the loose dirt, then transfer the bulbs to a wood slatted or wire rack that allows for good air circulation. The garlic should be placed in the sun during the day and protected from dampness and humidity at night by being moved to a warm, dry place such as a shed or garage. Cure (dry) for several weeks.
The bulbs are sufficiently cured when the paper-like skin covering the bulbs and the cloves is very dry and brittle; the garlic feels very hard to the touch; the root end is dried out; and the cloves can be separated easily without being damaged. The cured garlic should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. Select a number of the best-looking bulbs and separate them into cloves for planting next year’s crop. Use just the outer cloves for seed.
Braid garlic before tops are completely dry. Light reinforcing wire is usually required for a long-lasting braid.
These guidelines for growing garlic are based on weather conditions in the mid-Atlantic states. Some variations may be necessary for other parts of the country.
For the longest at-home storage, garlic should be kept in a dry, airy spot. Avoid placing it in plastic bags or covered containers, or in any location that does not allow for good air circulation. Fresh garlic should not be refrigerated. Do not store garlic near other foods like potatoes or apples that might absorb its flavor.
Look for a “garlic cellar” – a small clay pot with a lid and holes in it. Keep in a well-ventilated spot.