Garlic is an easy and rewarding crop to grow, but it requires patience and forethought. Garlic gets planted in the fall, about six weeks before the first frost and is not harvested until the middle of the summer.
Garlic is a perennial crop that is planted and harvested as an annual. If you look closely while hiking sometimes you can spot garlic plants growing in bunches. Garlic sprouts from it cloves, so when wild it is densely packed. In production agriculture we plant each clove far enough from its neighbors to produce large bulbs.
Garlic reproduces both sexually and asexually. The division of cloves is the asexual reproduction. Laissez faire garlic gardeners may have seen the sexual reproduction of the garlic plant in its large pink or white circular flower. The flower will put off very small garlic seeds that are much harder to propagate than the cloves.
The reason I say "laissez faire" is that allowing the garlic plant to produce its flower is not helpful for bulb production, and will actually "steal" energy that would have otherwise gone into the bulb. The flower stem is referred to as a scape, and when plucked at its first growth, can be used in cooking as a garlic substitute.
Garlic is the first plant to pop out of the ground in the spring. It is frost tolerant and comes up relatively early. It grows vegetatively for a few months, reaching full size around Late-May or June, when it pushes out its scapes. The garlic then focuses on bulb production for its remaining months.
Then, one day it dies.
That is to say it has achieved its goal, and created seeds for the next generation. The plant dries out and looks dead. This is when you harvest and cure it for use in the kitchen and for planting next year's crop.
In the future I will write more about garlic scapes, garlic harvesting and the garlic curing process.
And now you know!