Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow and stores so well that we are never without it. Sometimes in late spring our supplies dwindle and we switch to green garlic, but that's no hardship.
Green garlic is just ordinary garlic that's harvested before the bulbs mature and separate into cloves. At this stage you can east the whole plant stem and bulb. The stem is a bit like a sweet leek. For more on green garlic see this section of the book.
I use a rating system to help me decide what to grow and it considers lots of factors, but the main ones are how tasty it is, how healthy it is to eat, how expensive it is to buy, how big it's harvest is, when it's harvest period is and whether I can buy it organically and if not how much it's sprayed.
Garlic scores fairly well in this system: it's extremely tasty and healthy. It's not a particularly prolific crop, but it interplants well and spends most of it's time growing when there's usually plenty of space available for it. It stores well, so it's available during winter and spring, when food is scarce.
For a higher yield it can be planted at higher density and then progressively thinned out, with the thinnings used as green garlic (see later)
However garlic does take up prime growing space for the whole of spring and early summer, when you could be growing much higher value crops, this is is especially true of garlic planted in spring, for harvesting in late summer! So don't get carried away and plant too much, there are plenty of other things to plant over winter, that can be harvested by early spring. Green garlic is a better bet though. Interplant if this is an issue!
Garlic grows best in the ground, where it's fairly deep roots can thrive. We grow it in containers too, but it also does very well when interplanted. We particularly like interplanting into strawberry beds.
Green garlic is good in containers, provided the weather isn't too cold and the container is large enough, as you don't need to worry about developing a big bulb. I grow it in my 30 litre tomato containers, as it's harvested before I need them in June.
Garlic bulbs harvested in June/August are dried and stored until needed. The bulb is split into cloves which are planted in October and November. The cloves initially focus on root growth and this phase can last from a few weeks to months, depending on weather conditions. I'm often taken by surprise by how long it takes garlic shoots to break surface, but they almost always do, so be patient.
Depending on how cold your winters are you might need to mulch and the garlic might not break through the mulch until early spring, but by then it will have a well developed root system and be primed for growth. At this point you can pull the mulch back from the plants.
Once the garlic breaks surface its small leaves grow slowly, but being small leaved full sun is ideal. If interplanted you want the leaves to be well above the interplant (like low lying strawberries) before it also starts actively growing in spring.
The bulb needs about 6 weeks below 10c in order to split into individual cloves and this happens about 1 month before harvest. The mono bulbs are still great to eat though, or they can be stored and replanted in October.
Garlic can be harvested green in late April, May and early June. Mature garlic from mid-late June and into July. Garlic planted in spring rather than autumn, won't be ready for harvest until August.
There are two main types of garlic, soft and hard neck. Soft necks are perfect for a green garlic harvest, hard necks provide an edible flower stalk (scape) as an alternative
Garlic bulbs then dried for about a month and then stored.
For more details on the model that I use for describing harvest periods (first earlies, second earlies etc) please see the chapter on my growing framework