Growing Garlic in Orlando- Central Florida

Right now, I’m 156 days into my yearlong project of growing and foraging 100% of my food for a year.
I was told by quite a few people that garlic doesn’t grow in Central Florida and that it’s not worth the time. My circumstances called for trying anyway, because if I can’t grow it or harvest it from the wild for the year, then I can’t eat it. And garlic is all too important to me to not see for myself. It’s one of my most important medicinals and something I hold dearly for good healthy life.
For most gardeners here, it probably makes sense to just buy organic garlic from the store as needed. It’s pretty inexpensive and then there’s no need to attempt something that is likely not to turn out alright. But not me!

I did research and found that a few people were growing it successfully. I had talked to Melissa Desa at Working Food in Gainesville and she had good success with Elephant Garlic, which I think is more mild and perhaps not as medicinal. Alicia Crispy at Crispy Farms told me she had success with garlic. I also went to a class at the Florida Herbal Conference about Alliums and the teacher, who I can’t remember by name, taught us that she was successfully growing it.

I did not find a local source to buy garlic, but got it from Forever Yong Farms and Sow True Seed who both seemed to have varieties that did well in warmer climates. I talked to people at the companies and they both thought I’d be able to grow it in Central Florida, but it did seem that this was sort of the extreme of warmer climates.

I’m happy to report that I had success with growing garlic! This is not a blog on how to grow garlic in Central Florida and this is not even me recommending it. I am also not saying that this is the right way to do it. I did feel that my experience was worth sharing for those who would be interested though.

 

I received my garlic in the mail around October 9th and after a few days of not getting around to it, I put them in a fridge.  Forever Yong Farm included a notice in my package that said for zone 9 or warmer to “store in paper bags in fridge (not in crisper) for 6-8 weeks. This simulates cooler temperatures up north. Plant as late as November or early December.”

Basically, storing them in the fridge for a couple months simulates the cold of the temperate climates, where it grows really well.

I left mine in the fridge for longer than planned, about 9 weeks, and I planted on December 6th, later than I had desired. With growing and foraging 100% of my food, I just haven’t been keeping up with everything that I’d like to do.
Within a few weeks or under two months (I don’t remember exactly) I was eating garlic greens. Already a success! They are quite strong and garlicy. I think, even if not growing for bulbs, it’s worth just growing for the greens. I even got some cloves from a dumpster and planted them and they are still putting out greens on April 14th, over 4 months later.
I planted my garlic in one of my front yard gardens. Here is some information about how I grow them:
-About 4″ apart
-My rows are about 12″ wide and I did two rows of garlic within the row. So the two rows were only about 6″ apart.
-I planted them to the depth of my second knuckle
-I put a thick layer of straw over for mulch, probably 6″ or 8″
-I ran drip irrigation on top of each row and had the drip going for 10 minutes each day in the morning and afternoon. I also watered with a hose every day or at least multiple times per week for the first couple weeks to establish them.
-I had them planted in a mixture of majority mushroom compost and some top soil, that I’d been growing in for nearly a year.
-The garden was fully in the sun in the summer, but I planted bananas and shrubs on the south side of the garden, so the garlic was mostly only exposed to partial sun for most of the growing time. As the sun moved more North in the sky, that got more and more sun.

The four rows of garlic, after having harvested quite a few.

Closeup on 2 rows of garlic.

Closeup on garlic from level with the mulch.

I’ve been told that this winter was an unusually warm and wet winter.
Besides the greens, I also started to harvest some small, immature bulbs after the first month or so. The immature “bulbs” are sort of shaped like green onion bulbs. They were also very strong in flavor.
Just about every single clove that I planted grew.
I harvested about half of my plants on about March 21st, about 15 weeks after planting. I harvested another 1/4th of them about a week or two later, 16-17 weeks after planting. I made these notes about the 7 different varieties that I grew on harvesting day March 21st 2019.
I created four categories of information.
-What the plant was looking like
-Size of plant
-Whether the bulbs were hard or soft
-Size of bulbs
-After drying

 

1 Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum from Sow True Seed)
plant is still green and alive, but somewhat dying back
large plant
harvested one and is still in green onion form, not bulbing, but with some small bulbs coming off.
medium to large bulb
After drying- cloves were somewhat forming inside but still fleshy like green onion
2 Ajo Rojo (creole from Forever Yong Farm)
plant mostly dying, some completely brown, some green
smallest plant of all
hard bulb
small bulb
After drying- very solid head with dry solid cloves. This is the most finished and seemingly storable bulbs.
3 Red toch (softneck from Forever Yong Farm)
plant dying back mostly
small plant
not quite hard bulb, but not a green onion
small bulb
After drying- great quality bulbs, still a bit moist.
4 Shilla (turban from Forever Yong Farm)
plant most dead of all, nearly completely brown, some of the bulbs almost seemed like they were starting to decay
small to medium plant
forming or formed bulbs
small and medium bulbs
After drying- very solid heads with cloves but very much falling apart. Just 1 of the 5 has decaying skin on the bulbs. Overall doesn’t seem like it’s preserving well.
5 Bianca Spagnolo (softneck from Forever Yong Farm)
mostly alive plant, some flopping over
medium plant
not quite hard bulb, maybe formed
medium bulbs
After drying- soild head, formed bulbs, still a bit wet though and not fully dry
6 German Red (hardneck from Sow True Seed)
very alive plant
medium sized, lower (not as tall) plant
green onion-ish bulb, not mature
good size bulb
After drying- outside dry, but green onion inside with no bulbs. Would have been more productive to use as greens, rather than drying.
7 Music (hardneck from Sow True Seed)
quite alive plant
very large plant, bigger than elephant garlic
starting to bulb, but still a little fat like green onion
good size, quite large bulb
has scapes- the only variety with scapes
also, the largest amount of greens
After drying- solid bulbs. The outside is dry, but the inner layers are not fully dry and are starting to decay a bit. Would not have stored.

This photo shows the seven varieties with the numbers corresponding to the varieties above.

Closeup on varieties 1, 2, 3 and 4

 

Closeup on varieties 5, 6 and 7

 

Another angle

 

This is my first harvest showing less than half of the garlic I grew.

 

This photo shows the seven varieties with the numbers corresponding to the varieties above. This is after drying for about 2 weeks and peeling off the dried skin.

 

This photo shows a closeup of varieties 1, 2, 3 and 4. This is after drying for about 2 weeks and peeling off the dried skin.

 

This photo shows a closeup of varieties 5, 6 and 7. This is after drying for about 2 weeks and peeling off the dried skin.

So, some of them formed nice sized, complete bulbs, others did not. I would not use this information as anything definitive, just as my experience. I would say that some varieties may be better here than others, and that some might be better for producing large amounts of greens than others.
My order of most complete, storable bulbs to least is 2, 4, 3, 5, 7, 6, 1 (6 and 1 are tied for last).
Overall, looking through the large bunch I’ve harvested a majority of them are dried, solid heads of garlic with formed gloves. Only around 1 in 10 seems to be decaying at all. I would say that this was nearly a complete success.
If I was to do this again (which I won’t this year because I’m only here for two years), I would plant earlier.
The challenge now is preserving the garlic. I don’t have AC in my tiny house and it has been in the mid 80’s on many days. I have had the garlic sitting for about 2 weeks and much of it has dried into flaky skin with solid bulbs inside. However some of it is splitting open.
I just ate a clove of the Shilla (turban from Forever Yong Farm) and my throat and stomach are on garlic fire! It is no doubt strong stuff, as strong as anything I’ve ever bought from the store. And it was certainly quite productive. I’ve got a lot here.
For storage, I will dehydrate and powder a lot of it. I will also freeze some. I have not gotten so far as how I will preserve all of it. I have been dehydrating the greens and immature bulbs and making a powder that has worked great for flavoring dishes. Ideally, I’d be able to store nice bulbs, but with the heat of summer coming, I won’t risk it with too many of them, in my hot living conditions.
Happy growing to you all!

Here are some resources that I found as well:

How To Grow Garlic in Florida from The Survival Gardener

How to Grow Garlic in Warm Winter Areas – From the Deep South all the way to California 

Also, on Facebook Cory Elko shared these tips and information with me:
I’ve learned from people that have successfully grown it:
Cold stratification for months, increases your chances of it growing and bulbing out. (I’ve heard of people going as far as 6 months)
Mulch it heavily and use shade cloth to keep the soil cooler when things start to warm up. Here are his notes from multiple sources which he started putting into article form: First I’ll go over storage and ideal starting temperatures.
Long term storage for eating 30-32°F
Long term storage for planting 50°F at low humidity.

For vernalization through cold stratification store at a moist 65-70% humidity 40° to 50°F for 14-40 days. Can also be stimulated to grow in a moist sand mixture at the appropriate temperature.

The 14-40 day range is broad… let me explain. For best germination and jump start on the garlic, 40 days of cold is ideal. In Florida we won’t hit this in the ground ever. To jump start the sprouting, increase the moisture.
Ideally, it would break down to 26 days at a dryer 50°F and 14 days at a moist 40°F
Usually the goal of growing garlic is to produce a large bulb.
Garlic begins bulbing at soil temperatures of around 60°F and ends at soil temperatures of around 90°F
Deep mulch to decrease soil temperature way above that.
Harvesting the tops will reduce bulb size but you need to remove the bulbils.
Harvest when the green tops die back or just as signs of die back shows about one third of tops brown. Waiting too long will cause the bulbs to open which makes it harder to store and taste poorly.
To cure, store in a dark, warm, dry, well ventilated space for about two weeks until the neck/stalk shrinks and the peel is dry/crunchy.
Best choices are early varieties of soft neck garlics.
Warm weather cultivars from Spain or Asia.