Our gardening conditions are perfect for home grown garlic. It is a reliable crop, that tolerates our cold winters and requires minimum care.
The three garlic types, softneck, stiffneck and elephant, all do well in southern Idaho. As their names imply, the softneck garlic has a soft center stem that can be braided into a rope of bulbs. This strong-tasting garlic is the best for storage. The stiffneck has a stiff stem at maturity. Trim the stem of this milder type as it forms and before it uncoils. If the flower stem is allowed to develop, a cluster of bulblets will form at the tip and a smaller bulb under the ground will result. The elephant garlic can produce very large bulbs in fertile conditions. It is mild in flavor and does not store well. The flowering stems on both softneck and elephant garlic should also be removed to encourage a larger bulb size.
To plant all types of garlic, separate the bulbs into single cloves and plant the larger, outer ones, since they will produce the largest bulbs. The small bulblets from stiffneck garlic can be planted, but will not make bulbs of a large size after the first growing season.
Fall planting produces the largest bulbs in our short gardening season. The cold winter temperature speeds the bulbing in the longer days of early summer. Planting in October is early enough that the plant can root well and make several inches of top growth. The plants do well over winter, but in very cold areas, mulch will keep them from winter heaving and desiccation. Late fall planted garlic will not sprout until spring. Spring planted garlic must be grown from bulbs stored between 40 and 50 degrees to avoid small bulbs and delayed maturity.
Plant the cloves with the pointed end up about 2 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Elephant garlic will require more space in between cloves (6 to 8 inches apart). A 5 foot row will grow enough garlic for 1 person. Full sun is best, but garlic will grow in a partially shady area.
Care of growing garlic involves mostly watering. Garlic is a shallow rooted crop that prefers regular irrigation. Plants are rarely troubled by disease or insects. In very poor soil, plants may benefit from application of a complete fertilizer at 4 inches tall and again a week after bulbing begins (late June to early July). Harvest garlic when the leaves begin to dry. In our area, this will be sometime in July for fall planted bulbs. Carefully dig the plants to avoid cutting into the bulb. Place in a dry, shady spot to air dry for a week or two. After they have dried, brush off the loose dirt, trim the roots, and cut the tops. Remove the outer membrane covering the individual cloves if you wish. Store bulbs in a dark, dry spot in a mesh bag or braid your softneck garlic. Storage above freezing and below 41 degrees results in the longest storage period.
In Idaho there is quarantine on plants and bulbs of onion, garlic, leek, chive, shallot and other Alliums in order to control the potentially devastating onion white rot disease. Only garlic grown in the following counties of Idaho can be planted in Idaho: Ada, Bingham, Blaine, Boise, Bonneville, Canyon, Cassia, Elmore, Gem, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Madison, Minidoka, Owyhee, Payette, Power, Twin Falls, and Washington. Plants from Malheur County in Oregon can also be planted in Idaho (Idaho State Department of Agriculture, State quarantine law 02, Title 6, Chapter 07: Rules Governing White Rot Disease of Onion agri.idaho.gov). This means plants and bulbs from other areas will not be shipped to Idaho. Seed of these species can be imported, but garlic seed is difficult, if not impossible, to find.
According to some information, garlic has many positive health effects and medicinal uses. Some gardeners use garlic extract to control insects on other types of plants. Whatever its other attributes, home grown garlic will add flavor to your cooking all season long.