Pineywoods Herb Farm has been growing organic garlic for seven or eight years now, and each year the heads are bigger and better than the year before. Last summer we finally had enough large heads to sell... about 20 pounds... for our customers to eat and plant at the proper time.
In mid-to-late October, once the daytime temperature stays below 80, it is time to plant garlic. If you haven't already done so work some good compost or well-rotted and decomposed manure into your planting bed and make sure all weeds have been removed. Garlic doesn't compete well with weeds so keeping the bed weed-free is a crucial step at planting time and throughout the growing season. The soil should be loose and easily dug to a depth of at least 6 inches. Remove any stones, rocks, or large clumps of hard dirt.
A day or two prior to planting separate the garlic into individual cloves, leaving the skin on each clove intact. You want to select the largest cloves for planting, as larger cloves will produce larger heads. The garlic will be close to five months old at this point so some of the cloves may be a bit dry. This is normal and expected and shouldn't affect growth after planting. Any cloves that are very dry and shriveled, or cloves with brown spots, are not good for planting and should be discarded.
I like to soak the cloves in a weak solution of liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed organic fertilizers (see bottom of post for more info) for a couple of hours the day of planting. The ratio is about 1 tablespoon liquid fish emulsion and 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed in 2 gallons of water. Put all this in a bucket and stir well, then add the garlic cloves. Let sit for about 2 hours out of direct sunlight.
Pour off the seaweed/fish emulsion water and let's get to planting! (Note: the seaweed/fish emulsion water is rich in nutrients so don't let it go to waste. Use it around some plants in the garden).
Space the garlic cloves about 5 inches apart and plant 2-3 inches deep. Make sure the root end of the clove (flat end) is planted downward, with the pointed end up. Smooth out the planting area, water well, and that's it! It takes 7-12 days on average for shoots to emerge from the soil. That is always exciting for me! A new crop of garlic is on it's way!
Once the tender shoots are 5-6 inches high and before the first real cold snap of the season I like to add a fairly thick (3-4 inches) layer of pine needles to the garlic beds, nestling up gently around the shoots. This helps insulate the soil in case of very cold weather and keeps the soil from drying out during dry spells. Garlic doesn't require a large amount of water, and too much water (or soil that doesn't drain well) will rot the cloves. However, head formation will suffer if the soil gets very dry. Know your soil and water only when soil begins to get moderately dry.
It is not necessary to cover the garlic shoots during cold spells. If the cloves were planted deep enough and you have a covering of pine needles as insulation, there should be no problem even if temperatures dip into the teens.
Other than keeping weeds out of the garlic bed and watering when dry there is nothing else to do until late spring.
Note: Liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed can be purchased at many garden centers, some feed stores that carry garden supplies, Lowes and Home Depot. I very seldom use any type of fertilizer but when I do it is always liquid fish and liquid seaweed, approximately 1 tablespoon of each thoroughly mixed in about a gallon of water. This can either be used as a soil drench or sprinkled from a watering can on the leaves of plants. If sprinkled on the leaves don't do it on a hot, sunny day or it could burn the leaves.