How to Plant Garlic this Fall for Summer Harvest - Modern Farmer

How to Plant Garlic this Fall for Summer Harvest

I was just a gardener, growing garden-variety softneck garlic, when I headed to Iowa for my first Seed Savers Exchange Conference in 2002. I returned home to Pennsylvania with 10 varieties of heirloom hardneck bulbs, planted them that October, and before I knew what had happened, I’d become a garlic farmer.

hardneck garlic

I still cultivate softnecks (Allium sativum ssp. sativum), in part because the bulbs can be stored for up to 12 months, giving me a marketable crop year-round. But it’s hardneck garlic (A. sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) that excites my chef-customers: The cloves have a complex, wild-garlic flavor, and the scapes, or central stems, can be used like supercharged scallions in salads, soups, and stir-fries.

My business partner and I sell the biggest bulbs – of both subspecies – as planting stock, through our website and the garlic-festival circuit, for $18 a pound. The smaller, “culinary grade” bulbs bring $10 per pound at farmers markets and restaurants near our Berks County farm.

As if a never-ending market season and dual (growing and cooking) consumer bases weren’t enough, there’s another reason to grow garlic for a living. You can plant the cold-hardy crop (Zones 4”“8) this fall, in fields left vacant after the harvest of summer crops.

[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Planting[/mf_h2]

For best results, work two yards of well-composted manure into every 1,000 square feet of soil a week or two before planting (around Columbus Day in eastern Pennsylvania’s Zone 6). Select the largest cloves from the biggest bulbs and space them 6 to 8 inches apart, sinking each clove two lengths deep, root-end down. A week later, to protect the cloves through winter, conserve moisture, and suppress weeds come spring, cover the beds with 4 to 6 inches of straw or 3 inches of chopped leaves.

[mf_list_sidebar layout=”basic” bordertop=”yes” title=”12 Great Garlic Varieties” aftertitle=”Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) boasts a complex flavor and produces scallion-like scapes, but the bulbs store for only 4 to 6 months, while the milder softnecks (A. sativum ssp. sativum) can last a year in storage. The following heirloom picks include both subspecies.” separator=”no”]


  • Bogatyr Big cloves with a piquant kick
  • Chesnok Red Great for roasting, relatively mild taste, stores for 6 months
  • Chinese Pink High clove count, mellow flavor, good for eating raw
  • Creole Red Winner of many taste tests, rich and earthy flavor, large cloves
  • German White Very robust flavor, good for roasting
  • Music Large, medium-hot cloves, long-lasting flavor, very high yield
  • Purple Glazer An excellent roasting choice, no aftertaste
  • Spanish Roja Easy peeling, with a peppery heat
  • Tibetan The hottest garlic, matures early but doesn’t store well


  • Chet’s Italian Red The colder the winter, the hotter it gets
  • New York White Mild flavor, stores well, also called Polish White
  • Transylvanian Superspicy, long storing, does well in cold climates


[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Harvesting[/mf_h2]

Cut the hardneck scapes in early summer, after they have emerged and curled back upon themselves. Dig up all the bulbs in mid-summer once softneck leaves flop over or those of the hardnecks turn brown. Use a spading fork to carefully loosen the soil around and below, then pull them up gently, to avoid separating the bulbs from their stalks. Brush off any excess dirt.

[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]Curing[/mf_h2]

Group the bulbs in bundles of a dozen or fewer, and tie their stalks together. Hang in a warm, dry, low-light area and fan the bulbs out to ensure good air circulation. Softneck varieties will store for up to a year; hardnecks, 4 to 6 months.

[mf_h2 align=”left” transform=”uppercase”]The Bottom Line for Garlic Farming[/mf_h2]

Cost and yield may differ considerably, depending on the type of garlic grown. The numbers below are based on the super-prolific hardneck variety Music.

  • Cost per pound (planting stock): $18
  • Required to plant 1 acre: 1,000 pounds
  • Maximum yield in pounds per acre: 10,000
  • Return per pound (culinary grade): $10
  • Return per pount (planting stock): $18
  • Gross return per acre: $100,000”“$162,000 (minus equipment, labor, soil prep, etc.)

You’ll find a good selection of garlic bulbs at and at the author’s website,

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3 years ago

Great insight I am a garlic farmer in Kenya and I am looking for export market