Our Tips for Growing Fall Garlic in Western Washington
Provided by: -Newaukum Valley Farm- Chehalis, WA
We love growing garlic! Here are few of our tips for growing garlic in Western Washington. Be sure to research garlic growing tips for your growing zone and garlic types prior to planting.
1. Seed Source. Make sure you buy quality seed from a trusted source. The Washington State Garlic Fest (WSGF) is a great place to buy your seed garlic. The farmers who participate in the fest have spent a great deal of time and attention on presenting you with some of the best garlic available. Seed garlic and eating garlic are the same thing. Some growers break up their bulbs and bag seed as individual cloves while other sell it as heads. We find that seeking out large heads is best. The bigger the cloves you plant, the bigger heads of garlic you will reap.
2. Research. Be sure to research varieties that grow well in your climate. All the garlic we produce grows well in Western Washington and Oregon. For example, Kettle River Giant and Inchelium Red are native to Washington State and can be found at the WSGF. You can choose to grow softneck or hardneck garlic or both. Hardneck garlic flowers while softneck varieties do not.
3. Flavor. Determine if you prefer more pungent garlic or something milder. The WSGF is a great place to test out the flavor profiles of a large collection of garlic. Softneck garlic tends to be milder than hardneck.
4. Storage. Purchasing eating garlic or seed garlic at the WSGF will provide you with quality garlic so long as you store it properly. For long lasting garlic, place it in a paper bag in the cool dry place with good air flow. A pantry or a cupboard is a good spot. An insulated garage is even acceptable so long as the garlic is kept out of the light.
5. Soil Prep. Make sure to remove weeds from your plot. Garlic prefers rich, sandy loam soil. If your suspect you soil is lacking nutrients, consider taking a soil test. Your local extension agent should be able to assist you in this process. Be sure to amend your soil with compost and fertilizer prior to planting.
6. Planting. At Newaukum Valley Farm, we start planting our garlic in late September thru October. Begin by breaking up a full garlic head into individual cloves leaving the paper on the clove. Handle the cloves with care to avoid bruising. Making a furrow ahead of time, plant cloves about 4-6 inches apart and 3-4cm below the surface with the point end facing up. Some folks prefer to mulch their garlic after planting it to cut back on weeds and keep moisture in. We don’t find it necessary in our climate to mulch in the winter; however it is quite common in colder, dryer climates.
7. Growing. Garlic does not grow much in the winter, but you’ll see it take off as soon as the weather warms up.
Some farmers side dress their garlic with fertilizer in the late winter or early spring. It is important to watch the weather. If the weather is really dry, water your garlic more. Keep it watered regularly, but stop watering it about two weeks prior to harvest. If you have chosen to plant hardneck garlic you will see it scape (send up its flower stalk around June. Cut the scapes off when they first begin to curl in order to send more energy into the bulb. Don’t discard the delicious scapes. Drizzle them in olive oil and lay them on the grill like asparagus or make a pesto out of them. See recipe
8. Harvest. At Newaukum Valley Farm we begin our garlic harvest in July. We know when our garlic is ready when the leaves on our hardneck garlic start to change color and the softnecks leaves lay over onto the ground. Because of the size of our operation we use a tractor with an implement to dig our garlic. However, if you have a small patch, be sure to loosen the dirt around the garlic with a shovel. Pulling on the garlic stalk alone could result in separation from the stalk. Be gentle when harvesting your garlic to avoid bruising it. Brushing loose dirt off your garlic is an important step prior to curing it as it will help the drying process and keep things much cleaner.
9. Curing. The jury is out on how to best cure garlic. We have had great success in drying our garlic under shade cloth in our greenhouse. We hang it and/or lay it out to dry. We use fans to keep the air circulating and lift the side walls of our greenhouse to the up position for ample airflow. Many say the best way to cure garlic is out of direct sunlight in a barn or a garage. The key is good air flow. We know many who have lost their garlic to rot because the location they chose was too dark and damp. Either way, make sure to let your garlic hang or dry for 2-4 weeks for a good cure.
10. Cooking Now it’s time to eat that lovely garlic you’ve worked so hard for. The garlicky possibilities are endless when it comes to cooking. Check out the recipe section for some of our favorite ways to incorporate garlic into our meals.