Growing garlic provides soil conditioning help.
If garlic weren’t already such a great plant – good for human health, good for garden health, pretty, hardy, and easy to grow – it turns out that garlic can provide some soil conditioning as it matures in the ground.
My garden has a high degree of heavy clay soil, and this past winter and spring nearly the whole yard was dug up for construction. There was just a little sliver of garden bed to plant about a pound of Sow True Seed’s seed garlic last fall. Once planted, right among the spring tulip bulbs, some roses, some kale, and my newly transplanted peonies, the garlic got a good covering of straw mulch and then went to sleep for while, until restarting growth in the spring.
It’s July 1 now, and today I noticed that the garlic was ready to harvest (I had already snipped the pungent, delicious scapes a month beforehand and made them into pesto): about a third of the draping foliage had turned brown.
I used a garden fork to gently harvest garlic. Especially in heavy, compacted soil, the goal is to loosen the clods enough to pull out the garlic stem and bulb on their own. A shovel, in contrast, can cut and damage the heads. Easy does it.
What I noticed was that the root systems were super developed, and had broken apart a lot of the clay soil over the course of the growing season. Now I have a well-conditioned garden bed to plant something cool for the late summer, perhaps red okra. And after that, in the fall, more kale from seed.
Once the heads are pulled up, be sure to “cure” or air dry them for about a month in a dry, shady place. I put mine on sheets of newspaper on a covered porch.
Only when the heads of garlic are thoroughly dry and have formed a papery out layer can you store them indoors. Use a basket to keep air flowing and mold from forming.