Garlic is a beloved plant of most gardeners. However, garlic has a long growing season and need a cold period to produce bulbs. Planting starts in late fall to ensure a bountiful harvest next summer. When planted, garlic cloves will make roots but limit their growth before the first hard freeze.
Hard necks have better flavor and produce a hard stalk known as a scape. Soft necks have longer store life and are the bulbs found in stores. Hard neck varieties should be planted. Bulb stock from a garden center, catalog or previous harvest is recommended for planting. Timing for fall planting is important. In Central Illinois, late October and early November are ideal timing.
Add compost or aged manure to the area before planting individual bulbs. Just prior to planting, break fresh, disease-free bulbs apart into individual unpeeled cloves. Plant in rows 15 to 18 inches apart and individual cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in the row. Set cloves with tip up, and 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.
University of Illinois Local Food Educator Bill Davison plants his closer together so that his family can harvest in the same manner as green onions in the spring.
Mulch the soil with straw after planting to prevent frost heaving and weed competition. Garlic will only require additional water during drought garden conditions.
When the foliage grows to 4 to 6 inches, top dress garlic with ammonium sulfate or blood meal. In early spring, bulbs resume growth and scapes form. These flowering shoots are formed late spring and should be removed to ensure larger bulbs. After harvesting they make excellent pesto and are great in salad. Garlic can be planted at this time but the bulbs will be smaller.
Harvest garlic when it starts to die back, when four to six green leaves still remain. Remove excess soil, but do not wash, and lay whole plants on screens or hang in small bunches to dry. Allow it to cure completely in a warm and well-ventilated room. Curing will take four to six weeks.
Store cured garlic in a cool, dry place. All varieties taste the same at harvest, but after curing and a few weeks of storage, individual flavors will come out. Once cured, rub or brush soil off bulbs, clip the roots, and braid or remove tops. Garlic can be kept for a several months in mesh or paper bags in a ventilated area with cool temperatures, such as some barns or basements.