Question: Can I grow garlic in raised beds?

Answer: More and more gardeners are extending the planting season to include fall crops. One of the easiest and most productive fall crops is garlic. Garlic growers harvest three to eight times in weight what they plant. Garlic requires little space and has few pest problems, and stores well for continued use throughout winter and the following spring. It is an ideal plant for small gardens and especially raised beds.

Garlic has been part of our diet for thousands of years. Many studies have investigated the ability of garlic to reduce cancer. One such study showed eating garlic can help postmenopausal women reduce their risk of colon cancer.

Some garlic studies indicate it may reduce the risk of heart disease. The active medicinal compound in garlic, allin, is released when the garlic is crushed or chopped. This compound is then converted into allicin, which has the characteristic smell you associate with garlic. Allicin then decomposes to form sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds are responsible for the health benefits of garlic. To maximize their potential, the head of the Department of Human Nutrition at Penn State, John Milner, Ph. D. recommends letting crushed garlic sit for five minutes after crushing and before cooking to allow for the formation of the sulfur compounds.

There are two main types of garlic, soft-neck and hard-neck. Hard-neck garlic has larger but fewer, five to seven, cloves as well as a greater variety of flavor. This type of garlic is usually preferred for northern climates. Soft-neck garlic does not form a woody stalk but rather has flexible leaves, which can be braided. Bulbs of soft-neck garlic have more individual cloves and higher yields than hard-neck garlic. They are also better adapted to a wider range of climates.

Fall is the perfect time to grow garlic. Set your garlic cloves in the garden during early fall. Just before planting, separate the bulbs into the individual cloves and sort by size. Reserve the largest cloves for planting and use the smaller ones for cooking.

Garlic grows best in fertile, crumbly, loamy soil. For all bulb crops the pH should be between 6.2 and 6.8. For average soils, apply 3 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 50 feet of row. The larger cloves should be planted 1 to 2 inches deep and 5 to 6 inches apart. A side dressing of fertilizer in March also may be beneficial.

Fall garlic is ready for harvest around early to mid-July. When the lower third of the leaves turn brown, and five to six newer leaves are still green, the bulbs will be ready for harvest. Allow the garlic to dry in a well-ventilated, shaded area at 70 to 80 degrees. After drying, remove the outer loose portions of the sheath and trim the roots and tops 1 inch from the bulb.

Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: