Growing Garlic in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Public Television

Growing Garlic in Wisconsin

Growing Garlic in Wisconsin

Record date: Feb 10, 2018

Noel Valdes, Owner of CobraHead, explains how to get the most of your garlic crop including when to plant, the best soil conditions and the most effective mulch.

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Episode Transcript

- My name is Noel Valdes. I live in Cambridge.

Everybody knows where Cambridge is. It's 20 miles east of here.

I've been growing garlic since I moved to Wisconsin.

I actually grew garlic when I still lived in Minnesota,

but I've been growing garlic a long time.

It's actually, if you haven't grown garlic before, it's quite easy.

It's one of the easiest crops to grow in the garden.

Let me get set up here.

Okay, this is your checklist.

You need to start with healthy seed and

I will tell you what is meant by healthy seed.

You don't plant garlic seeds.

You plant garlic cloves.

That's what's referred to as the seed.

It's the clove of the garlic,

the same clove you use that you eat when

you're making your pesto or whatever else you're doing.

You need good soil. Garlic likes good soil.

Garlic doesn't like weak soil.

It likes rich, loamy soil.

If you don't have good soil, work some compost into it

or manure or whatever you can.

Any kind of a soil amendment.

You have to plant garlic, to get your best crop,

you're already too late this year.


You can plant garlic in April,

but you won't get as big a crop.

Your bulbs won't be as big, okay?

You'll still get a crop but your bulbs just won't be as big.

They need that extra growing time.

The ideal time to plant in Wisconsin is

the last week of October.

That's your target date to plant.

Typically, you will harvest your garlic in July.

You'll save your best bulbs from that for your harvest

that's coming up the following October.

Garlic likes to be high up.

There's a saying among the gardeners that

garlic doesn't like wet feet and what that means is that

it doesn't like to sit in standing water.

It's like an onion. You know how onions, if you grow onions,

they don't like to sit in standing water.

They need to be in well-drained soil.

That's why I'll show you a system that

puts the garlic up on a ridge.

You make a little mountain and you plant the garlic

on the top of the mountain and then

it gives it full drainage and so you don't get that

wet feet syndrome which will cause rot

in the bottom of the garlic.

Okay, and because you're planting your garlic in October,

it's gotta survive our nice Wisconsin winters.

Which we had 12 below a couple weeks ago and

we'll hit 15 and 20 below.

It's gotta survive that so it needs the protection.

Otherwise, it might make it through the winter,

but there's a very good chance that it would freeze out.

I use straw.

People use other mulches like chopped leaves

and other things as a mulch, but I think straw

is so much superior because it's the best

insulator of a natural product that's out there.

So, I use straw and I do a heavy mulch of straw.

I'll show you that as we go on and then, in spring,

by the time the snow starts to melt,

that garlic that you planted in October has already

put down quite substantial roots

and it will put green out in March.

In March, it will be putting green out into the ground.

It will be the first thing in your garden that's

sprouting green when spring comes.

These are garlic cloves.

These are what you call garlic seed.

Garlic does produce a true seed.

I'll get into that a little bit down in the presentation

but this is what you plant.

There are more varieties of garlic

than I can dream of, I'm sure.

I grow two varieties, the red one

and I don't even remember the names of the varieties,

the red ones and the light brown one over there,

that I've grown from my own saved seed for over 20 years.

I can't even tell you what the varieties are anymore.

But, garlic is readily available.

You can buy garlic at the store and plant it

but you'd better make sure it's organic garlic

because the non-organic garlic may be treated.

It may be treated so it doesn't sprout

and you don't want to plant that.

It's not gonna grow well.

So, you have to either use a seed from garlic

you've already grown or you have to buy some bulbs.

Those are garlic heads or garlic bulbs.

We all know what they look like.

That garlic is hard-neck garlic

and there are two varieties of garlic

and I'll get into that in a just a moment

as we move forward here.

The very interesting thing about garlic is

when you grow your own, it gets better.

The garlic that you grow in your own garden over time

acclimatizes itself to that specific location

so your garlic seed every year will be stronger than

the seed that you grew the year before.

So, if you buy garlic from a source,

say in California or somewhere else,

and you plant it, the first year, it may not do so well.

But the second year, it will actually be better

than the first year because it's gotten used to

the nice Wisconsin winters that we have.

So, garlic acclimatizes itself

and it's one of the best plants out there for doing that.

It really localizes itself to local growing conditions.

When you buy your bulbs and you spread them apart

or you've used your own bulbs that you've grown,

always plant the best.

Don't plant the weak ones. Don't plant the small ones.

Plant the best because that's what you want to grow.

You want the best variety,

the strongest, the biggest.

So, always plant your best seeds.

Eat the smaller ones.

If there's any damage on those cloves,

there's insect damage, there's any kind of mold,

there's a big gouge in it,

the paper is totally torn away where it looks fragile,

don't plant that one.

Plant the nice, robust, healthiest cloves

that you come up with.

There is a couple of varieties of garlic

that I actually picked up this year.

I was at the Wisconsin Master Gardeners' Conference

in West Bend last fall and there was a garlic vendor there

who grows thousands and thousands of bulbs every year.

Grows it for money.

So, we made a trade and I ended up with

some nice new variety of garlic that I'm working in.

As far as steering you to the right

variety of garlic to grow, it'll all grow.

It's what you want, so you have to find your own way.

There's hot garlic. There's mild garlic.

There's what's called hardneck garlic.

There's what's called softneck garlic.

Now, that's a big difference.

I'll have to explain those a little bit to you

but you find your own way on the garlic that you want.

Okay. Hardneck varieties.

Allium sativum ophioscorodon.

This is the variety that produces the scapes,

the flowering head.

This is the garlic that gardeners that are growing for money

will typically grow in the northern climates.

Hardneck garlic. Very popular in Eastern Europe.

Very popular in Poland, Russia, all of those place like that.

They grow the hardneck varieties of garlic primarily.

The softneck garlics typically will not produce a scape.

In fact, if you're producing softneck garlic

and you get a scape on your plant,

it means your plant is under stress

and it's putting up a scape to try to put some seeds out

because it's not sure it's gonna survive.

The hardneck garlic will always put out scapes.

Both varieties, both the hardneck variety

and the softneck variety grow very, very well in Wisconsin.

It doesn't matter, but typically because,

I guess it's because of so much of the European heritage,

in Wisconsin, the hardneck is more popular.

It's more pungent. The bulbs are bigger.

Typically, that's the variety that people grow.

The difference that even a lay-person

would know about garlic, the hardneck versus the softneck,

the softneck is what you make the garlic braids out of.

The hardneck you can't braid it.

So, if you want garlic braids,

you have to grow the softneck variety.

We talked about that.

Hardneck doesn't store quite as well.

Softneck varieties will store better.

Softneck is typically, if you walked into Woodman's,

or a market like that, you see the little

three-packs of garlic in the little thing?

Those would be softneck varieties.

They're typically washed in the store.

They actually store quite well.

You can get almost a year out of a softneck variety.

Hardnecks, if you get nine months, you're doing pretty good.

I'll get nine months out of my garlic,

but I certainly can't make it last a year.

I grow in what are called open raised beds.

You don't have to grow garlic in an open raised bed

but garlic likes, as I said, to be elevated.

It likes to be in soft soil.

It likes to be in well-drained soil so, obviously,

a bed that you grow it in gives you all of those advantages.

But, you don't have to do that.

You can plant it in rows, just like a traditional garden,

but it is good to elevate it so you have excellent drainage.

We already talked about this.

Last week of October, that's your target,

but there is a wide window.

You don't have to make it the last week of October.

I've planted garlic as late as December.

I had to actually chip the soil open so I could get

the cloves in and had no problem, okay,

but I had to get it in so it still had time

to get its roots set before the hard freezes come.

Typically, try to get it in before the middle of November.

But, that's your target, the last week of October.

If you plant it in April, as we said, it will work.

You'll just get smaller bulbs.

So, there it is. It's October.

It's time to plant. The leaves are falling.

I ridge my beds and if you're planting in rows,

I would strongly suggest you make ridges,

just little ridges,

and plant your garden at the top of the ridges.

See what I've done?

I've taken a rake and I've made three ridges in my bed

and I will plant garlic across the top of those three ridges.

If you're planting in a row, just make a single ridge.

But, just rake up your soil and make a little ridge.

It doesn't have to be tall.

It can be three inches above the surface level of the ground

but just make a little ridge so you've got very good drainage.

I plant my normal sized garlic six inches as a spacing.

It's a very good spacing to use for garlic.

Six inches apart for your cloves.

If you have this big elephant garlic,

which is not really a garlic, it's a leek.

But, it looks like a garlic.

Those should be about eight or nine inches apart

because they put out a great big clove.

If you're planting these little small,

real hot little garlics that they grow,

those can be as close as four inches apart

but your typical garlic should be six inches apart

as far as the spacing goes.

Okay, we already talked about this.

Garlic doesn't like wet feet.

If it sits in wet water, the bottoms will rot.

You won't get nice cloves.

You'll have problems so you want to keep that bottom dry.

Garlic doesn't require a lot of water.

You can tell if it needs water.

If anything else in your garden needs water,

water the garlic while you're at it.

Most of the time in Wisconsin, in a normal garden,

garlic never needs to be watered.

It gets all the water that it needs.

Here's what I use to shape my beds with but,

you know, whatever works for you.

Remember what the cloves look like?

There's the pointy side and there's the flat side

that was connected down to the root.

Pointy side up, okay?

If you plant it upside-down, it may work,

but the garlic has to work twice as hard to overcome

its ability to try to get that growth coming through

that point, so pointy side up.

I don't bury my garlic.

I just push it into the ground 'til that top of the point

is level with the ground surface

and that's how deep I plant it.

I don't cover over it, either.

I just shove it in the ground.

That's it.

Okay, there's my beds.

I've got my yardsticks out there.

I'm laying them out, six inches apart.

If your soil's soft enough,

you don't even need a tool to plant.

You just shove it in your soft soil.

If your soil is a little tougher than

you'd like it to be and it's not totally soft,

you can take a dibble to make a hole

or just take a little finger-hoe or something

to pull the soil back to get it in the ground.

I'll typically plant about 100 cloves in one of these beds

so each one of those has about 33 cloves

about six inches apart in my 20-foot-long bed.

Plant as much as you want.

It's your garden. No upper end, no lower end.

If you plant in fall, you have to mulch.

I know people say they can get away without mulching

but you are taking a good chance that your bulbs are

gonna freeze out if you don't mulch them.

Straw is, by far, the best insulator out there.

I put about a six-inch topping.

You can get away with a little less

but six inches is a pretty good target

to have the layer of mulch on your garlic.

I know people use chopped leaves.

I know people who use hay.

The problem with those type of mulches is they collect water

and then that water freezes

and they don't act as good an insulator,

whereas if you know straw, straw is a hollow tube.

So, all of those hollow tubes act as an insulator,

so that's why I prefer straw.

Straw sheds the water better.

It's always great, here in Wisconsin,

if you get a snow cover.

That doesn't hurt anything.

But, definitely, you want to think about your insulator.

I cover all of my beds with leaves every fall.

That's just part of the process I do

but, the garlic, obviously, I don't have to cover with leaves,

so it sticks out like a little sore thumb there.

You know where the garlic is.

Then, just where we are now.

Spring will come, right? [laughter]

Keep waiting. It will show up.

Garlic will be the first plant that shows up in the spring.

It'll be poking its flags up through that straw.

It'll still be freezing outside and it'll be poking up

those little garlic flags through the straw.

It's a very cold-tolerant plant.

You can't quite see it there

but there's a little bit of growth that you can see

poking up through that straw,

and those are the garlic flags coming up.

That's what they look like when they stick up through the straw.

There's a bed that has just started to sprout.

You can see there's still a lot of snow on the ground.

I'm starting to pull the straw back.

I don't let the garlic grow through the straw.

You can probably get away with it if you want to,

but it's best to pull the straw back as the days get warmer.

You can either leave the straw around the plants as a mulch

or you can rake it back into your aisles

and use it as a weed mulch in the aisle.

Typically, I will take all the straw away because

I will interplant and I will tell you what that means

here in just a second but I'll put another crop

in there with the garlic.

So, there it is.

I've cleaned all the garlic out of the paths and the rows

and everything and it's good to go just the way it is

until it's time to harvest, but I will plant lettuces

and other crops in the valleys and along the ridges,

along the sides in there,

so I'm getting two crops out of one season.

I actually get a third crop because,

when the season is over,

I level my bed off and I plant a crop of green beans.

So, I plant green beans in July and I'm harvesting them

in September, October, and I get a beautiful harvest.

The green beans really love coming in after the allium.

They really like the soil, what the garlic does to the soil.

Okay, we talked about this.

As the days get warmer,

gently pull the straw back from around the plants.

Either use it as a mulch or remove it totally.

Here, I'm starting to interplant.

What you're seeing is not a weed.

It's cilantro. Everybody knows what cilantro is,

for your salsa and your tacos.

Okay, that's salsa I've interplanted in there.

Garlic can tolerate interplanting.

It can't tolerate big plants that would be bigger than

the garlic itself, but it can tolerate

smaller plants with no problem.

There I've got lettuces all around

the garlic and through the rows.

It's all interplanted with lettuce.

Garlic doesn't like a lot of weeds.

You should keep it weeded.

It'll tolerate a little weed growth.

It definitely hates grasses,

so if you've got quack grass or other grasses in there,

it doesn't like that so remove those

and give it some freedom.

Don't let the weeds take over.

Okay, we talked about garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the garlic's method of reproduction.

They throw up this stem that throws out a seed bulb.

I'm sure most of you have seen what an onion looks like.

Garlics and onions are doing the same thing

except it doesn't have this big, bulbous bulb.

It has more of a...

It looks like a small garlic bulb

that grows up on the top of the scapes.

Don't let those mature. Don't let those--

As soon as you see them, cut them off.

Because what they're doing is they're taking energy

away from your bulbs, so your bulb

isn't gonna be as big if you let those go.

They're totally edible. Make garlic pesto.

They're really good, so when you see them, cut them off.

Occasionally, you'll get a scape on softneck garlic,

but if you get a scape on softneck garlic,

it's an indicator that the plant is stressed

and it is trying to put out a seed head.

Normally, it wouldn't do that

if it was under ideal conditions.

Hardneck garlic will always put out a scape

and they'll put out more than one scape.

You cut that one off, it'll try to put up repeated ones.

Okay, this is scapes that have gone on too long.

They're pretty but definitely I should have cut them off

long before they got that far.

Usually, you won't have a lot of pest problems with garlic.

You won't have a lot of disease problems with garlic.

The culture is exactly the same as onions,

so if you grow onions and if you have problems

with thrips or other insects, or flies,

you're gonna have the same problem with garlic

and you have to do what you can, but they're relatively--

I mean, I've been growing garlic here in Wisconsin

from Day One when I moved here in 1986

and I've never lost a crop to insects.

I've had a few bad bulbs here and there but most of the time

I'm in the high 90% of my yield of what I plant

versus what I pull out of the ground in July.

Practice good rotation.

Garlic likes to be rotated.

Don't plant it in the same spot year after year.

Keep it clean.

I had no animals.

In fact, garlic is actually a repellent to a lot of animals.

The rabbits won't eat it. The woodchucks won't eat it.

They'll eat the lettuce that's growing right next to it

but they won't eat the garlic.

So, it's not that good of a deterrent that it will keep

the rabbits from eating the lettuce

but they at least protect themselves.

I'm not watering garlic there.

I'm watering onions, but I am gonna talk about watering.

Typically, you won't have to water your garlic

unless you were in a really drought-type summer.

Normally, it will pick up enough moisture

just from the ground itself and from the rainfall.

But, it's like any other plant.

If it looks stressed and it's hot

and your other plants are dry, then water it,

but when it gets close to July

and you're thinking it's about ready to harvest,

it's not a good idea to water your garlic

right before you harvest it.

You want those bulbs as dry as they can be

when you're harvesting them.

Unfortunately, sometimes it's time to harvest

and it's been raining for four or five days.

You gotta do what you gotta do, because you don't want

to leave them in the ground, but typically,

don't water your garlic for a couple of weeks

before you're ready to harvest.

I'll give you some indicators of when

you should be harvesting.

A lot of people will try to tell you

to watch for the leaves to fall over.

That's when the time is to harvest your garlic.

Or watch for when the tips are starting to turn yellow.

Those are indicators, but they're not the best indicator

as to when you should be harvesting your crop.

The best indicator to when

you should harvest is the bulb itself.

You have to look at the bulb itself.

So, around the end of June, first week of July,

if you've done the plant at the end of October thing

and you're here in southern Wisconsin...

peel some of that soil back around the bulb and

the bulb will be up above the ground, anyway,

at least a good part of it will be up above the ground.

But, look at that bulb.

If the bulb still looks like an onion,

it's totally smooth, garlic's not ready.

If it's starting to show the shape of a garlic bulb

that you can see the outline of the individual cloves,

that's getting to be your sign that it's time to pick it.

That's just about an ideal clove situation.

The skin is starting to get papery

on the outside couple layers, but they haven't yet split.

You don't want that paper to all split

and expose the cloves.

Then, your garlic has gone on too far before you harvest it.

It'll still be good garlic.

It'll still be totally usable.

You'll still be able to get a couple months' storage

out of it, but if you let it go too long,

it'll sprout faster than if you picked it

at the ideal time when it's a perfect bulb like that.

So, you can let it go but once it's starting to split,

you're past your sell-by date.

You should have already had it out of the ground.

So, too smooth, looks like an onion?

Not enough.

Too long, it'll start to split.

Typically, for me, I'm in Cambridge,

that's only 20 miles from here so essentially,

you could say it's Madison.

15th of July.

I mean, it'll vary a week or so but typically

the 15th of July is when I harvest my garlic.

Okay, like any crop, when you first harvesting,

they're quite delicate in there

so some people try to pull them out by the neck.

It's not a good idea.

It's best to get underneath them and lift them out.

Okay, if you pull them by the neck,

you can do damage to the little neck part

that's just touching the clove.

They won't store as well,

so it's best to lift them out with a fork.

Garlic should be cured before you store it.

What curing means is you just let it dry out.

You harvest your garlic.

You brush off all the dirt that you can.

Make it as nice and clean as you can.

Don't wash it unless you absolutely have to.

I have washed garlic when I've harvested because

it's been raining and it comes in and it's all muddy.

I don't want to bring muddy garlic in the house

so I will wash it, but it's better not to.

It's better to just brush the dirt off

and leave it in its natural state.

I'll just lay it on a table,

put it in the garage for two weeks.

Don't stack it up too deep because I you stack it up deep,

it won't breathe and your plants can start to rot,

so give it a lot of space to dry out.

Okay, we talked about this.

Don't wash it if you don't have to.

There's some washed garlic.

That's a softneck variety I grew years ago.

I don't grow much softneck anymore.

I just like the hardnecks. They're tastier.

But, I washed that because I harvested and it was all muddy.

It was fine, but better not to.

Okay, you can't braid the hardneck varieties.

For storing them, the best thing to do is just

trim the neck off about two inches up from the bulb,

as you see here.

The best storage for garlic is in a relatively dry condition.

It doesn't have to be cold.

In fact, it doesn't like cold storage.

It likes room temperature storage,

so 65 degrees in your basement would be ideal,

or wherever you can have nice, dry storage.

It doesn't like high humidity.

Most of our houses in the winter don't have high humidity

but it doesn't like high humidity.

It's easy to store and, as I said,

I get about nine months storage out of my hardneck variety.

At the end, they're starting to sprout and, you know,

you've got to cut around them and stuff like that,

but I'm still getting nine months out of them.

This is how I store mine.

I'll plant about 100 cloves and that easily lasts.

There's only two of us now in our household.

So, that will last us almost a year, nine months.

Then, we have to supplement it with small farmers' garlic.

Don't store in high humidity.

Definitely don't store your crop in the refrigerator.

It will go bad relatively quickly.

Garlic can be frozen or dried,

but you do not want to store garlic in oil.

I know you can do it for very short term, but long term,

it can lead to botulism and none of us want that.

The garlic we harvest in July is what we plant in October.

So, after your harvest, pull out your most beautiful,

the ones you're most proud of.

Save those and plant those.

The rest you eat.

That is the end of the slide-show type presentation.

Thank you.

[audience applauding]

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