As I mentioned back in July when I harvested my garlic, the selection of cloves for the next crop started that very same day. I had a total of 44 garlic bulbs (photo below, left). I started by simply removing the most outer papery layer, then lightly brushing the dirt off the roots of each bulb (center) until clean (right):
As I was doing this, I formed groups of four or five bulbs by size; in the photo below, notice the exemplary large bulbs bundled in the left, compared to the smaller ones in the bundle of the right. For each bundle, I made a loop with the tops and used rubber bands to keep them together (detail in photo, right):
The bulbs must be cured for a few weeks in a dry spot, away from direct sun; I used clothes hangers to hold the bundles by the loop, and hung them in my basement. After curing time, when the tops had completely turned brown, I started cooking with the smallest bulbs, or those with damaged skins. When sowed, each clove will develop into a whole bulb so, in order to keep a sustainable source for planting year after year, it is necessary to save as many cloves as bulbs are expected for harvest. A standard estimate is to save about one quarter of the largest bulbs for the next crop, but in reality, each variety of garlic may have a different average number of cloves per bulb; I guessed that in my case, I roughly needed to save 10 bulbs (4-7 cloves per bulb.)
Note: For the Northern hemisphere, this is the last chance to get garlic bulbs for this sowing season. Fellow bloggers Nanny Grannie and Mary @ Cactus Catz are in zones 8B (West Coast), and 9A in Tucson, respectively, and are interested in growing garlic; they probably have a large variety to choose from for their zones, either from catalogues of companies in their areas, or by seeing what organic garlic is available at their local farmers’ markets. I commented back in July: “For details on how to select the best varieties for specific gardening zones, there is plenty of information on-line [, but] in a nut shell, there are two groups of garlic: hardneck garlic is better suited for cold climates, and softneck for milder zones. In terms of characteristics, hardneck have complex flavours and produce scapes (edible flower buds), whereas softneck have more cloves per bulb and a longer shelf life, so these properties might influence the choice as well.” Planting is recommended about four to five weeks before the first expected frost, or sometime in late fall for zones without hard frost. For example, for my area, in growing zone 6B, the first average frost date is the third week of October, so I should be sowing just about now. Because their zones are milder than mine, Nannie Grannie and Mary may start sowing any time between late October and early December. Another blogger – The Universal Gardener – is in Subtropical Australia, and he has mentioned that in mild zones, you may sow in early spring and cajole your crop to grow for a fall harvest, but he has found that late fall or early winter (May-June in the Southern hemisphere) is the best sowing season for his softneck garlic.
I started getting ready for sowing two days ago, by choosing a few bundles with the largest bulbs. I removed the rubber bands and cut the dry tops, obtaining whole bulbs (whole bulbs is what you receive in the mail from a catalogue order, or if buying at a local market.) I gently opened the bulbs, separating the cloves, trying to disturb the papery wraps as little as possible; within each bulb, some of the cloves were bigger than others, so I separated the small ones (which I will use for cooking), and picked the largest until I had 45, for sowing (see detail in the photo at the top of the post):
Yesterday, I cleared a patch that was used to grow radishes, and then remained undisturbed the rest of the summer; it was completely covered in weeds! In the photo below, my progress at cultivating this patch may be appreciated, which was done with the help of my handy dandy tools (cultivator, Hori-Hori knife and mini-scythe):
Seed companies recommend allowing 6 inches between cloves and 8-12 inches between rows, but I usually get away with 4 inches between cloves and 6 between rows. The cloves need to be about 4 inches deep, at least in my zone, since the soil surface will be freezing and thawing all throughout winter, and those swings really can cause damage to the crop. I measured two rows, six inches apart, in the small patch I had created, and dug them four inches deep:
(Did you notice my selfie on the Hori-Hori knife I used as a ruler? It was unintended, but I should copyright that photo, LOL.)
I sprinkled the bottom of each row with compost, and then placed individual cloves, four inches apart, with the pointy end up, along the rows:
I sprinkled a little more compost on top, then covered with dirt to soil level. It was so hot yesterday, though, that after sowing about one third of my cloves, I decided to stop and wait a few days until the weather cools down. After that, there will be nothing to do but leave the garlic cloves to their own devices; they will sprout and develop roots before going dormant until spring. Then, with just a bit of TLC, each clove will grow into a plant with a whole bulb by summer time. Another example of the gifts of Nature, what a wonderful world!