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8 Ways to Get a Bigger Garlic Harvest

A kitchen would be incomplete without garlic. As a result, many people want to learn how to grow this tasty bulb on their own. Abundant garlic harvests don't take much expertise, even beginners can grow these nutritious homegrown treats. With just a few simple steps, you'll be enjoying homegrown garlic and large harvests.

If you are planting garlic for your own household cooking, it’s rare to need to increase your yield.  A few plants can often provide enough garlic to last a family through an entire year.

There are several reason why you might need more than a few bulbs of garlic every few weeks.  In addition to producing edible bulbs and shoots, garlic works as a natural pest repellant.  

It’s strong scent repels everything from aphids to house cats, making this plant a must-have in any organic garden.  It can be crushed and added to cleaning spray as a natural way to disinfect and repel household pests.  Very strong concentrations of garlic can even kill some bugs.

Garlic can also be a good plant to grow a lot of so that you have extra to trade or sell.  Because the bulbs are easily stored in cool, dry places, it is possible to trade, sell, or give away garlic months after it is harvested.  

If you’re thinking it might be time to increase you garlic yield, try these suggestions.

1.  Grow new plants from your kitchen scraps

Let’s start with one of the most common ways that many gardeners start growing garlic.  While it’s possible to buy garlic seeds,it’s much more common to start by taking a small piece of garlic, known as a clove, and getting it to spout.  

While you can do this by soaking the bottom half of the clove in water to encourage root production before planting, you can also just stick cloves directly into the ground and water thoroughly for about a week.

If you only have a few plants, this method is a good way to get a lot of plants going without investing any more money into your garden.  Traditionally, families would start new plants from cloves that they didn’t need to use in the near future.  

The goal was to produce enough new plants that a bulb could be harvested every week, and eventually once a day.  Even if the family only used a few cloves, the others would become new plants that would mature in time to provide the family with more garlic bulbs.

Either method will produce green shoots within a week or two of going in the ground.  When it comes time to harvest, however, be aware that the bulb will very rarely look like what you buy in a grocery store.  

The actual shape you get will depend on your climate, soil conditions, water, and amount of sunlight that the plant receives.  Plenty of gardeners have experimented with this and claim that the shape of the bulb can even be influenced by the size and shape of the piece that was originally planted.  

There may be some merit to this claim, but remember that the bulb you plant will not actually continue to grow back into a perfectly shaped bulb of garlic.  What actually happens is that the garlic clove will degrade as the green garlic shoots grow, and eventually the plant will form a new root structure that will become the new garlic bulb.  

That means that planting garlic this way will take a long time before the garlic bulbs are ready for harvest.  Expect to see some really odd shapes of the garlic bulbs when you harvest the plant.

Overall, this method will ensure you a constant supply of garlic, but it will take several months or years to increase your harvest with this method.  It is free, however, and it does not require you to rely on any outside sources.

2.  Harvest your garlic greens

Few people realize that the top part of the garlic plant is edible.  In fact, garlic greens are easy to harvest and in most cases they will start to appear within a week or two of planting garlic cloves.  That means that if you want to access something edible quickly, cutting the garlic green is an easy way to increase the amount of food you can get from each garlic plant.

To cook with garlic green, chop them finely and use about twice the amount that you would “normal” garlic in your recipes. Garlic greens have a much milder flavor than garlic cloves, but they have more fiber.  They will also grow back within a week or two, making it possible to harvest them multiple times without destroying the plant.  

Be aware, however, that harvesting the garlic greens will slow down the development of the garlic bulb.  The green part of the plant is where photosynthesis happens, providing food for the plant.  

When the green are cut, the plant will have to use its remaining energy to grow new greens.  If the bulb is already rather large, then it is possible to kill the plant if you cut too many greens.  The plant simply will not be able to make enough food to feed itself and create new growth.

For these reasons, it’s generally recommended that you do not harvest more than 10% of the green part of the plant at a time.  If you do harvest all of the green part of the plant, go ahead and dig up the garlic bulb.  You can separate it into cloves and replant, or eat it.

3.  Space out your plants properly

While it may seem as if seeds or starts can be planted within a few inches of each other, it’s a good idea to space out plants with at least four inches between them.  You can probably get away with three inches of spacing, but anything less makes it difficult for each plant to get enough nutrition out of the surrounding soil.  

If you really want to increase the yield of your garlic plants, however, give them at least eight inches of space from any surrounding plants.  This will give the bulbs enough room to expand and grow.

4.  Adjust your fertilizer  

Because garlic takes so long to mature, it can use up a lot of the nutrients in soil.  For this reason, it’s important to make sure that the soil they are planted in is high quality and that you regularly apply compost or fertilizer to add nutrients back into the soil.

Ideally, plant garlic cloves in good soil with a thick layer of compost, or mix the compost into the soil.  Avoid sandy soil and soil with extremely high pH.  If you choose to use chemical fertilizers, be sure to have your soil tested and use a fertilizer blended for your soil type.

Every two months, mix new compost into the soil or fertilizer.  If you overfertilize, it is likely that you can burn the garlic bulbs.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do when this happens.  It may be possible to blend in fresh soil, essentially diluting the chemical fertilizer, then allow the plant to recover on its own.  Do not try to dilute the fertilizer with water; you will likely drown the plants.

Underfertilizing is a much more common problem because garlic tends to use up all the nutrition in the soil.  Fortunately, because it is such a slow growing plant, a lack of nutrition will usually just slow down growth or make the plant dormant rather than kill it.  

If the garlic is growing in low-quality soil, mix compost into the soil surrounding the plant.  This will add in necessary nutrients, and you will not have to worry about burning the plant.

5.  Consider what is growing around your garlic

Because garlic is such a useful plant when it comes to repelling garden pests, a lot of gardeners will plant it around other plants in their garden rather than dedicate a separate row for it.  That means that garlic is often competing for nutrients with other vegetables, herbs, and fruits.  

If it is planted next to a species that uses a lot of the soil’s nutrients, there won’t be much left over for the garlic.  On the other hand, if it planted next to a crop that returns nutrients to the soil, such as peanuts, it can thrive.

If you really want to plant garlic next to a “needy” plant, such as corn or tomatoes, be sure to mix in fertilizer or compost on a regular basis.  Again, compost is recommended here because it is so much harder to burn plants with compost.  Garlic’s long growth time means that it will be able to access the nutrients in compost; it generally doesn’t need chemical fertilizers.

6.  Adjust your water

Garlic needs water, but soil that is too moist can cause the bulbs to rot.  Keep the soil around the garlic slightly moist, but do not allow standing water to pool around the plants.

 Do not neglect the plants either.  If the soil does not get enough water, the top part of the plant will turn brown.  In particular, think about what plants the garlic is next to.  If it is planted next to a “thirsty” crop such as tomatoes, you will likely get a smaller yield.  

The tomatoes will use up the water, but because tomatoes require very moist soil it will be hard to add extra water just for the garlic.  The result is often that the garlic grows smaller.

In this scenario, you may want to keep some garlic next to the tomatoes because of the pest control help.  That means your only option to increase garlic yield is to plant more plants in another location.

7.  Keep your garlic in some shade

Garlic grows best when it is kept cool. Too much sun, particularly direct sun, will make it too hot, and the plant will not produce a bulb.  Ideally, grow your garlic in partial shade.

Too much sunlight can also mean being too hot.  While most gardeners will plant their garlic as soon as the ground is no longer frozen, people in warmer climates have a harder time determining when to plant.

The result is that they underestimate how long it will take garlic to grow, and end up with plants that bake in the sun.  Fortunately, garlic has a very high heat tolerance.  If it is exposed to too much heat, however, it will burn the shoots, causing them to shrivel and turn brown.

Fortunately, this is relatively easy to fix.  Provide the plant with more shade, and it should be fine.

8.  Weed your growing garlic

Weeds can crowd out your garlic, even if you don’t see a lot of them above the ground.  Weeds that have complex root structures can essentially strangle a plant, making it impossible for garlic bulbs to have enough space to grow.  Be sure to pull any surrounding weeds out and remove the entirety of the roots when you do.