Garlic has stolen my heart as an organic gardener, because it is hands down one of the easiest and most reliable crops that I've grown so far.
For some reason, I initially had this idea that garlic was only for experienced gardeners and would be a challenging crop to grow. I've had quite the opposite experience, finding it to be a simple and rewarding crop and now I can't imagine going a season without growing it!
Fall is the best time to plant garlic. It goes in just as you're clearing out the rest of the garden. There it will rest until the very earliest opportunity for growth in the spring, when it will begin to sprout up as the winter weather recedes, even before you're in the mood to pull on those rubber boots and try to work the ground.
I now start each year with the best heads of garlic saved from the previous summer. The first year that I grew garlic, I bought a 1 lb package from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (it wasn't this variety, but same size/price). It was a bit pricey at almost $20, but it has easily paid for itself since. That 1 lb grows a LOT of organic garlic and now I just save seed every year from my harvest.
If you are in a pinch and want to try planting garlic before it's too late this season, but can't get your hands on any seed garlic, I would just try using a package of organic garlic or some from the local farmer's market. I've since added to my garlic with some that I purchased at a fall fair from a local farmer and it grew just fine.
How to Plant Your Garlic
I started by tilling up the strip that I wanted to use for planting. Meanwhile, I got my older kiddos to start gathering up fallen leaves for me. They thought it was fun; I thought it was nice of them to make my job easier!
Once the ground is ready (or you can do this job in advance, inside if you like), open up your garlic heads and carefully separate all of the individual cloves.
You can see that I plant my garlic in incredibly straight rows. Or something like that. Let's say I had some assistance from my little helpers!
As long as they are fairly straight, it really doesn't matter. I make the rows approximately 6-10 inches apart, which seems to be a good distance to not crowd the garlic when it's tall and full in the summer and leaves a nice, easy strip for hoeing between the rows.
I just use the tip of my hoe to drag a long, thin furrow in the ground to make the planting easier.
Place each individual clove into the row, about 4-6 inches apart.
Make sure that you put the flat bottom into the ground (the end part that you would cut off before mincing garlic for cooking), leaving the pointier end sticking up.
Use the extra dirt on either side of the furrow to cover over the cloves, patting it down gently.
Hopefully your little helpers will have gathered enough leaves for you by this point, and you can cover the ground thoroughly with fallen leaves as you can see in the very top picture. I don't usually feel like I have enough leaves, but where I live, we don't have a lot of hard frosts and so my garlic is always just fine.
If you live somewhere that is particularly cold during the winter, then you will want a nice, thick layer of leaves (maybe half a foot thick) and you could cover it with a bit of hay to weight it down and make sure they don't blow off. In the early spring, just remove excess covering if it hasn't decomposed enough for the garlic to poke straight through it.
Notice that I am not fertilizing it at this point. The reason is that I don't really want to encourage much growth until the spring.
Once spring arrives, I will give it a bit of natural fertilizer of some sort once it's come up a few inches, and then once it is nice and tall a couple months later, I will give it another feeding. But for now, leave it hungry. It might pain you, but it's the right thing to do.
That's it, for now...
Sit back all winter, and dream of how good it will taste in the summer! And oh, does it taste good. I never want to go back to buying grocery store garlic again and that is part of what makes me get out there in the chilly fall weather and plant it each year!