The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival is this weekend. For those of you who would like to try growing some garlic in your own gardens, this is a great time to get some locally grown stock to plant. I have been growing garlic for about 14 years now and this year was another great year (see above). I have found that garlic does very well in Woodland Valley. It takes a couple of years to really establish your growing stock but once you do, you will find you will get consistently large heads in the mid-summer.
Garlic is planted 6 weeks before the first GROUND FREEZE (not frost). I always figure that to be around the first week of December. So I plant my garlic sometime in mid-October. You break up the entire head into separate cloves. Then replant the cloves about 6 inches apart and roughly 2 inches deep. It is best to only replant the largest cloves because clove size is the largest factor in determining ultimate head size. That's basically all there is to it. You can fertilize the garlic in the fall when you put it in the ground and again in early spring if you choose to do so.
Garlic is the first thing to appear in the spring. If it is hard neck garlic it will keep growing until somewhere in June when it sends up shoots called scapes. These scapes will turn into bulbils if you let them grow. That will sap the energy from the growth of the bulb main bulb underground so you want to break them off when they get big enough that you see the ridge that forms the bulbil.
The top of the garlic plant starts to die somewhere in June or July. You want to pull the garlic out of the ground sometime in late July or early August. But deciding when to pull the garlic is the hardest thing to get right. You want to wait until most, but not all, of the plant has died back. If you pull too early, your cloves will be small. If you pull too late, your cloves will start to open up and then not store well. I tend to wait until all but the last two leaves have died. It is best to err on the side of pulling too soon rather than too late.
Once you have pulled your garlic you want to let it dry for a month to six weeks with the top of the plant still intact. Some people never cut off the top but I find it harder to store so I do cut it after it has dried out. At that point I separate out the largest heads for replanting and store the rest for eating. You want to store it in a cool (but not freezing area). It should be out of direct light but, in my experience it doesn't have to be total darkness.