How to Grow Really Small Garlic Bulbs:
Big is overrated! Try these tips for growing tiny bulbs! For those folks who want to grow large garlic see our Grow Humongous Bulbs page.
1) Plant garlic too early in the fall.
Studies have shown that garlic planted earlier in the fall has smaller bulbs than the same variety of garlic planted 2 or 4 weeks later. Garlic needs time to grow roots before cold weather hits but you don't want it to start sprouting out of the ground. For the smallest bulbs try to plant cloves in August or early September.
Picture: These two garlic bulbs took the same amount of garden space, care and weeding. As you can see, one is more of a mouthful than the other.
Since we like big bulbs, at Grey Duck Garlic we plant in mid to late October after the first hard frost. For huge bulbs, we recommend that you plant garlic between mid September and early November depending on your climate and when your first deep freeze occurs (Southerners should aim for October/November and Northerners September/October!) Unless you live in Antarctica or interior Alaska, August is way too early to plant hardneck garlic.
2) Plant cloves in poorly drained soil.
Nothing stunts or kills garlic better than poorly drained soil. Wet soil combined with temperatures hovering just above freezing can be particularly dangerous. If temperatures are too cold to promote leaf growth the water logged soil will rot garlic roots and prevent bulb growth.
Here at Grey Duck Garlic we have well draining silt loam soil. However, thanks to record rains the last couple years we have had areas of standing water in our field. We had to adjust the drainage and build up several areas in the garlic field to prevent flooding. This has worked really well and is definitely worth the extra work if you have a problem with drainage. By the way, record rains for us are 9-12" of precipitation over the winter months! So those of you in areas with real rainfall may want to make sure you have well draining soil where you plan to plant your garlic bulbs. You may need to prepare a special bed.
We have noticed two things about garlic and wet soil. First, large cloves can recover from being waterlogged better than smaller cloves; they have more reserves. Second, garlic does a lot better in wet soil if the weather is warm and sunny enough for the garlic to be growing rapidly.
3) Plant cloves in compacted soil.
For tiny weeny bulbs give the garlic the challenge of trying to grow through soil the approximate consistency of cement. Compacted hard soil makes bulb growth difficult. Since garlic is a root crop the soil needs to be loose to encourage large bulb development.
4) Plant garlic cloves really close together.
The closer the garlic is planted the less room it has to grow and the smaller it gets. For big garlic plant 6-8 inches apart.
5) Only plant really tiny cloves.
The smaller the clove the smaller the resulting garlic bulb. So eat those big ones and only plant the tiny cloves.
6) Don't weed...at all.
Weeds can reduce yield by over 50%! Garlic can't compete very well with weeds. For the tiniest bulbs try to encourage weed growth. I recommend sprinkling weed seed heads over the entire garlic bed (Canada thistle is especially lovely and makes harvest a special challenge as well). For those conventional folk who actually want weeding tips see our sustainable weed control page.