Can you grow garlic indoors?

Garlic

You can grow garlic indoors very easily and expect to see green shoots that can be harvested in about two or three weeks after planting a garlic clove. You need to select cloves from garlic bulbs that have been grown organically. Non-organic garlic cloves are sometimes sprayed with a chemical that inhibits regrowth.

You need to take a garlic bulb and break away the cloves. Each clove will become a separate garlic plant.

When you grow garlic indoors, it’s the green shoots which grow from the clove that can be used as a very tasty garnish. When the shoots become tall enough you can cut these off with a pair of scissors and they can be chopped up to go with whatever dish you want.

The main advantage of growing garlic indoors is to have access all year round to the green shoots that keep on growing. It is possible to generate a garlic bulb when growing garlic indoors. After about 10 months the tops of the garlic plant will appear to die off. This will be an indication that there is a garlic bulb that’s reached maturity beneath the soil.

If you have lots of dishes that include garlic, then, that’s a good enough reason for growing garlic indoors. Is particularly useful to have a regular crop of garlic that you can harvest indoors if you were unable to secure a store of garlic bulbs from the garden.

If you can grow garlic indoors you will get a much more instant access to a constant supply of fresh green garlic shoots. You can grow a garlic plant from a clove grown indoors very quickly. When you grow garlic outside in the garden it has to be planted in the autumn fall and it won’t be available to harvest until the following summer.

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The main advantage of growing garlic in the garden outside is that you get to harvest bulbs that are clusters of cloves. Garlic cloves have their own specific use. When you grow garlic indoors you have to, generally, settle for the fresh green garlic tops which you have access to straight away.

For some people, growing garlic indoors may be the only option if they don’t have any garden area outdoors. Garlic can be grown in pots and small containers just like you can grow any other plant.

Having the green shoots of garlic growing when very little else is available from the main garden is a useful way of filling the green veg gap. Some people have success with producing the finished bulbs of garlic cloves as well.

The winter time is when we are looking for fresh greenery wherever we can get it. Having a constant supply of fresh garlic green shoots turn up regularly will be a welcome sight.

Most people recognise that garlic, in whatever form, is a healthy addition to the diet. The regular taking of garlic in its many forms is known to help with stabilizing a number of health conditions. These include cardiovascular health and a range of blood conditions.

Then we come to the taste. Some people will tell you that if you grow garlic at home it tastes better than the garlic that you buy at any supermarket. This may be true. The thing about garlic that you grow at home is that it’s always going to be fresher when you cut it.

The supermarkets make a good job of keeping all their vegetables fresh but there is going to be a period of time between when it’s cut or harvested and when it finally reaches your plate.

Some people make the point that garlic that you grow at home won’t have been subjected to chemicals that are being used to maintain freshness during transport and storage. It’s unlikely that the chemicals that are used to preserve garlic will do you any harm but it just makes sense to avoid this sort of thing where you can.

Growing garlic

When is a good time to start growing garlic indoors?

Provided you can get hold of garlic cloves you can start the germination process for growing garlic indoors at any time of the year. Indoor growing of anything should work quite easily because of the microclimate that indoor-growing provides.

You will find that garlic will make full use of the conditions of the indoor microclimate. All you need to do is to make sure that you keep the plants watered and provide sufficient light, either natural or artificial, and you should get a regular crop of green garlic tops.

Some people get a bit confused over the names and references to the parts of a garlic plant.  Garlic cloves develop in bunches which make up the  garlic bulb. The bulb will separate out into segments and each segment is known as a  garlic clove. It’s the bulb of garlic cloves which you can buy at the supermarket.

The  garlic cloves are what you use when cooking and you normally only use one or two cloves of garlic at a time. Some people have more success than others when it comes to the ease of separating out garlic cloves from the main garlic bulb. When you do this you need to peel away all the skin from the garlic clove.

At the base of the garlic bulb there will be a root system but this will be trimmed off for storage and to make them easier to handle at the supermarket and for when you store them at home.

When the garlic leaves start to grow they will come from the stem and resemble the same type of green shoots that you would get from an onion. Garlic is a member of the onion family.

There are varieties of garlic that grow a bud in the spring called a scape. If you see this appear on a garlic plant growing indoors, you need to cut it off. If you don’t cut it off it will develop into a flower and the plant will begin to die off, as it puts everything that it has into the bulb.

On the other hand you may want the flower to develop and mature. In which case it will produce bulbils. These are small garlic clones which can be planted like seeds which could come in handy if you want to grow some more garlic plants indoors.

Very few people bother with saving garlic bulbils for growing new garlic plants. It’s much quicker to grow garlic plants from the cloves.

Let’s look at the varieties of garlic that we can use

There appears to be three categories of garlic but only two categories are considered to be genuine garlic. Within these categories there are many varieties. Each variety will thrive where the climate and soil conditions are suitable.

Each variety of garlic appears to have a specific flavour. There are people out there who can recognise specific flavours as though they were comparing a selection of wines.

The most common variety of garlic is the one that we are most likely to find at the supermarket or grocery store and that is the ‘softneck’ garlic. This variety prefers mild Winters and the bulbs store more easily because it has  multiple layers of skin.

The other variety of garlic is known as the ‘hardneck’ garlic. This can cope with colder Winters. For this you get a stronger flavour but the bulbs don’t have as many skin layers. ‘Hardneck’ garlic bulbs don’t store as long as the ‘softneck’ garlic bulbs. The ‘hardneck’ garlic bulbs have fewer cloves but they tend to be all the same size. 

You may have heard of a variety known as elephant garlic but this is officially recognised as a leek. The elephant garlic doesn’t have so many cloves and does not have a strong taste which is generally associated with most other garlics.

The garlic that you will be cultivating will be grown indoors so you don’t need to worry about which variety of garlic clove you use. You will need to know that if you use a clove from a hard neck bulb, you will need to chill it before you plant it. This will be necessary if you want to generate a bulb from it but you won’t need to do this if you just want to grow green garlic leaves.

So, what is the procedure for growing garlic indoors?

You need to decide what you’re going to grow your garlic plants from. You can grow garlic from seeds if there is a specific variety that you want  but most people settle for using a garlic clove that they’ve wrestled out of a garlic bulb that they’ve bought at the supermarket.

There’s a couple of things we need to remember here. The garlic that you buy at the supermarket is often treated with a chemical that is intended to preserve the garlic and stop it from sprouting. This won’t be a lot of use if you want to grow garlic indoors at home.

The best way around the problem of chemical treated garlic is to look for organically produced garlic in the supermarket, or somewhere else. You may even find some garlic cloves that have started sprouting. This would be ideal because you will know that they will grow when you plant them.

If you have a choice among the garlic cloves available, use the soft neck variety. This works better in warmer climates and should be easier to grow indoors.

A container suitable for growing garlic indoors

The container that you use to grow garlic indoors can be very simple. The roots on a garlic plant tend to be shallow, so you don’t need much depth of soil. Garlic is a member of the onion family which are all shallow rooting. It’s possible to grow garlic in no more than 6 inches of soil.

The container that you use for growing garlic must have drainage holes to avoid water logging, so, place the container over a water catchment tray.

What type of soil do you need to grow garlic indoors?

You need the same type of soil for garlic as for any other plant. Whatever soil you use it needs to be moist but not saturated. It will help if the soil is light. To help keep it more open and free draining it will help if you add some perlite or vermiculite.

If you’ve got any compost hanging around you could mix some of this in, it will help provide nutrients for the young garlic plants and get them off to a good start.

If you want to be creative with your attempt to grow garlic indoors, you could try what some people do, which is to place an individual garlic clove into a small glass that has enough water in it to submerge half of the garlic clove. This is known as hydroponics.

When in water, a garlic clove will develop a root system and will also produce Green shoots. Some people have considerable success producing plenty of green garlic leaves using just this method.

Does garlic require fertilizer?

Garlic plants definitely perform better if they are fed with some fertilizer. The general recommendation is that you use a liquid fertilizer. There are a number of suggestions for this including seaweed fertiliser or fish emulsion fertilizer. You could also use any liquids that emerge from a worm farm as this will contain plenty of potash and phosphate. It won’t, however, contain any nitrates.

The same would apply if you feed your plants with worm castings or straight solid compost. It may be better to use an artificial compound fertilizer that has a balance of NPK, for example 10:10: 10. All you need to do is to sprinkle this on the soil surface and it will work its way into the roots of the garlic plants when you water them.

To grow garlic indoors you will need extra light

A sunny window ledge may be all that your plants will need. This is something that you need to experiment with. If it looks as though they are not getting enough light then you need to consider setting up a grow-light system.

Alternatively you could consider growing garlic in a purpose built indoor garden or a grow-farm. Garlic is one of the plants that would grow really well in this type of setup. You would have total control over the amount of light that the plants get and there is an indicator to show when extra water needs to be added. You can find out more about grow farms at indoor farms for fresh salad.

Planting the garlic cloves

With the container in place it needs to be filled with a potting mix, then you can think about preparing the cloves. You will need to refrigerate the cloves for about 6-weeks.

When you do this you are mimicking a cold winter period from which the garlic clove emerges into warmer conditions. This is the trigger that is needed to start the germination.

The cold period will be necessary if you want to germinate a garlic clove to produce the green edible leaves that most people want.

You need to separate out the garlic cloves from the main bulb. you need to do this without damaging the clove. As a general rule the larger cloves will produce bigger and more productive plants.

The good news is that when you separate out the individual cloves from the garlic bulb you don’t need to fiddle about with peeling the skin from the clove.

When you have finished separating out the number of garlic cloves that you need, you can then plant them. In soil, you need to plant garlic cloves about 3 inches deep. In an indoor garden you can plant the cloves closer than you would if they were in an outdoor garden. Plant the clothes about 2 inches apart.

Make a hole in the soil about twice the length of the clove using a stick. You then need to look closely at the clove that you have in your hand and place it in the hole with the pointed tip looking upwards.

You then need to fill in the hole where you place the garlic clove. It’s important to make sure that the soil above the clove is firm to stop it pushing up when it starts to grow.

You need to give them a good watering as soon as you have planted the cloves. Thereafter you just need to keep everything moist. You must avoid over watering. The garlic cloves will rot if they are too wet.

It will help if you apply the fertilizer in the early stages of growth. The garlic cloves will sprout and the shoots will grow quite vigorously. When the garlic leaves reach about 6 inches high the garlic plant won’t need so much fertilizer. On an established garlic plant you only need to apply fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks.

When people grow garlic indoors it’s usually done to be able to harvest the green leaves that grow from the garlic clove. It won’t take long for leaves to appear from the garlic cloves. You will only need to wait 2 to 3 weeks and you should be able to start cutting the garlic leaves.

The leaves can be taken from the garlic clove and more leaves will regrow until the clove can no longer produce any more leaves. At this point you need to replant a fresh garlic clove to be able to continue the process.

You may find that you will see a scape (the beginnings of a flower) appear on one of the leaves. In its early stages the scape can be cut off and used in cooking. Don’t allow the scape to turn into a flower because this will allow the plant to think that it’s going to seed and it will stop producing fresh leaves.

Wild garlic

Harvesting the bulb of the garlic

If your intention is to grow a bulb from the garlic you will need to leave the plant alone and don’t take any leaves from it. You will know when the garlic bulb has finished growing because the leaves will start to go brown. The leaves will feed a garlic bulb until the leaves die off at which point the garlic bulb can be harvested. This process can take up to 10 months.

At this point you no longer want the plant to grow any more because it has grown as much as it’s going to. It’s important that you stop watering the plant when the leaves are dying off. Let the soil dry out around the plant. It’s important that the garlic bulb does not get wet at this point because it will rot.

Harvesting the garlic bulbs from soil in a container is a very simple thing to do. Having stopped watering the soil it should be very dry so all you need to do is to turn the container upside down emptying out the soil and the garlic bulbs will appear.

The leftover soil from the container can be used outside, in the garden. You need to store your garlic bulbs in a cool and dry place that’s well-ventilated.

Keeping your garlic dry during what is known as the curing stage is very important. If you allow your garlic to become damp they will rot or, sometimes, they will start growing shoots.

You will know that the garlic bulbs have finished curing when they feel dry on the outside and the outer layers feel like paper. If you have large garlic bulbs they will take longer to cure than the smaller ones.

When the curing process is finished and everything feels paper-dry, you may want to remove any excess dried soil. When you do this you will probably find that some of the out paper-skin will come away. This won’t be a problem but don’t be tempted to pull away any more skin than is necessary.

Some people who grow garlic, indoors or out, like to display the garlic bulbs by braiding them together. To do this you need to leave the stalks on the soft neck garlic so that you have something to braid with. This isn’t done just for appearances. It happens to be a good way of holding them up in the air to help with curing and storing.

Garlic bulbs held up in a braided formation should store well and last for many months.

Remember to keep some of your largest garlic bulbs for seed.

To sum up:

Garlic is one of the simplest plants that you can grow indoors. The main thing is to ensure that you keep the roots moist at all times. This will ensure that you will have a regular supply of green shoots that will become leaves. The outer leaves can be taken allowing the inner leaves to finish growing and provide more leaves to cut later. 

The main points being:

  1. Decide what you’re going to grow your garlic plants from, clove or seed.
  2. If you use cloves, use organically grown cloves as seed.
  3. Grow a ‘soft-neck’ variety.
  4. A 6 inch deep container is sufficient.
  5. Chill the garlic cloves to mimic Winter, before planting.
  6. Use a balanced NPK fertilizer.
  7. Add artificial light where needed.
  8. Cut the fresh leaves regularly to encourage more growth.

For the best results you could consider using a specially designed indoor gardening kit. These are designed to ensure that the routing systems on plants received enough moisture at all times. They also ensure that enough good quality light is supplied to the growing plants for as long as you want. The lighting can be set on a timer. This type of system is ideal if you want to grow garlic indoors. Find out more about indoor Gardens and grow farms.

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Image sources: Pixabay 1 | Pixabay 2 | Pixabay 3

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