Considered a staple in many households, garlic is a crop that can grow throughout parts of Alaska. When growing garlic in Alaska, keep in mind that hardneck varieties are much more suitable for cold climates. Garlic comes in hard or soft neck, the difference being hardnecks have a stalk that stems from the center of the bulb and turns rigid at maturity. Softnecks stalks have leaves rather than a central stalk, this allows for softneck garlic to be braided when storing. In colder climates, hardneck types are much hardier and more flavorful, produce much larger bulbs. Chose a variety of hardneck garlic that has been successfully grown in Alaska or a similar climate to your own.
While most crops are finishing up by September, garlic should just be getting started. Garlic should be planted between mid-September and mid-October, within a week or two after the first killing frost (when the air temperature reaches about 32°F for the first time in the autumn) or about four to six weeks before the ground freezes for the first time in the autumn. Purchase your garlic in advance at a local farm supply store or order the bulbs with time for delivery by early September. As weather varies each year, this date will be flexible. You want to plant the garlic so that it has enough time for root growth but not for leafy growth. If leafy shoots emerge from the ground in the autumn, they will be killed by freezing temperatures. You can prevent this by not planting the bulbs too early, as the warmer soil will initiate leafy growth.
Before planting your garlic, work a healthy organic matter into the soil such as compost. Ideally you want a pH range between 6 and 7. When planting the garlic, break the bulb into individual cloves, but leave the papery outside intact. If you remove the paper, the cloves are susceptible to rotting or molding faster. Plant the larger cloves as they will grow larger bulbs. Plant basal side down (pointed side up) somewhere between 3 to 4 inches deep. Space your cloves 5 to 6 inches apart so the bulbs will have room to grow. Using a mulch such as straw, chopped leaves, or seaweed will help keep the bulbs insulated well throughout the winter months. Check back for a springtime post on what to do next for your garlic!