A garlic bulb is made up of several cloves each one surrounded by a shiny hard skin. Some varieties such as the artichokes can have 3 to 5 layers of cloves and total 20 or so cloves per bulb. Others like the porcelains have fewer fatter cloves and may only contain 4 cloves per bulb. It is these individual cloves that you divide and plant. Each of these cloves will grow and form a complete bulb of garlic for the new harvest season.
When we were first starting our garlic growing adventure most of the information that we found on growing garlic said that fertile loose well drained soil was required. Sandy loam or loam soils were recommended as the best. Well, fertile was not a problem for us, our soil is definitely fertile, it was the loose or sandy that we definitely do not have. Our soil is some kind of heavy black clay like substance more like sticky silt. It’s so heavy that if you try walking through the field on a wet day you won’t make it very far; so much thick mud will be stuck to your boots that continuing becomes impossible without stopping to scrape mud off. So, soil was definitely a big worry for us when we were starting out. After growing garlic now for a number of years in our very heavy soil we can definitely see where loose soil would make it easier but with a few modifications in the handling of the garlic as it’s harvested we don’t really seem to suffer any loss because of it. Our garlic seems to do quite well.
Garlic has a moderate to high demand for nitrogen in the soil. It is recommended that you have your soil tested and if needed, there are a number of recommended sources of nitrogen that can be applied such as ammonium sulfate, urea, or blood meal. It is also recommended that you have your soil tested for phosphorus and potassium and adjust those levels accordingly. Your local agriculture extension or greenhouse should be able to help you determine what it needed for your soil.
Green manure crops are also recommended such as buckwheat or winter rye. They are turned into the soil when they are still green and growing to add organic matter to the soil. If you only need a small amount for your garden size plot you can get it at a local health food store.
Here's a photo of the garlic field planted with a green manure crop shortly before being turned back into the soil in the fall of 2007. It's amazing how quickly it grows in just two months!
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