Garlic is a close relative to the onion and belongs in the Amaryllidaceae family. Although it is a perennial, it is usually grown as a winter annual in the South. The plant consists of four or more flat, grayish green leaves which are about 12 inches long and a half inch wide.
Varieties There are two main types of garlic; softneck (also referred to as silverskin, common, artichoke, or Italian) and hardneck. Softneck garlic is the kind usually available in the supermarket. It grows in most areas, rarely produces a flower stock, stores well, and has good flavor, but the cloves are difficult to peel. There is a wide variety of interesting hardneck garlics, but they tend to be more finicky about where they will grow.
In North Carolina, garlic should be fall planted from mid-September (western NC) through November (eastern NC). The cloves must be planted early enough for large root systems to develop before winter begins. A well-established plant will grow rapidly in the early spring as temperatures begin to rise. Spring planting of garlic is not recommended because the bulbs from spring planted garlic are usually very small and must often be allowed to grow a second season to reach marketable size
Good soil moisture is required during the growing season to produce large, well-shaped bulbs. This is usually provided by overhead irrigation. As harvest nears, however, irrigation should be halted to prevent deterioration of the bulbs.
Insect and disease problems are similar to onions. To prevent many of the problems that can arise, follow a strict crop rotation plan for garlic. A minimum of four years should pass between Allium plantings in a field. Follow good sanitation practices by purchasing clean planting stock, not planting any cloves that look diseased or deformed, and removing diseased looking plants from the field. If soils are too wet, root rot fungi and bacteria may be a problem. During hot, dry weather, thrips populations may reach damaging levels. If thrips counts exceed an average of 5 thrips per plant, control measures should be taken. Garlic is a weak competitor against weeds. Organic mulches can be applied to reduce weed growth. Careful, shallow cultivation is also recommended. Recent research in other parts of the country indicate that flame weeding may be the most cost-effective method for maintaining clean beds in garlic fields.
Garlic must be cured for several weeks prior to storage. In areas where morning dew or rain is not an issue, field cure the bulbs by leaving them in windrows. Otherwise, place the bulbs in slotted vegetable bins in a covered but open area to cure. Small volumes of bulbs can be hung in the rafters of barns, garages, and packing houses. Under very humid conditions, the bulbs can also be cured on racks in forced air dryers. The bulbs must be thoroughly dried before being shipped or stored. After curing, discard diseased and damaged bulbs. Clean the remaining bulbs to remove the outer loose portions of the sheath and trim off the tops and roots.
When properly cured, garlic keeps well under a wide range of temperatures. Store in open-mesh sacks in a dry, well ventilated storage room. Optimum storage conditions are 32° to 35° F with 60% to 70% relative humidity. Storage life is 5 to 8 months.