In the Northeast, garlic is planted two to four weeks before the ground freezes solid for the winter. Note, this is not the first frost. Generally, in Midcoast Maine this is mid October to mid November.
Break heads of garlic into individual cloves and plant pointy side up (root side down), two inches below the soil surface.
Garlic likes rich, well drained soil but will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but it will effect the final result. Heavy, clay soils make it difficult for the garlic to grow and flourish.
After planting, apply a thick layer of mulch. Straw makes a nice winter blanket.
In the spring, if some of the plants are not showing themselves, they may be stuck in the mulch. At this point, the garlic is very tender and easily broken. Gently peel back the mulch and help the plants find their way to the light.
Once the garlic is in its vigorous vegetative growth, before the hardnecks put on scape, an application of compost or organic fertilizer is appreciated. Moisture is also very necessary. If your area is not blessed with deep soaking rains, manual watering is needed.
Hardnecks produce scapes while softnecks do not. Scapes are the delicious ephemeral flowering spike that can be used a number of ways. They have great garlic flavor and are a wonderful addition to any dish that includes garlic. Pesto is a favorite way to use them up and preserve the treat. Additionally, the removal of the scape from the plant diverts the resources to bulb development. Simply snap or cut the scape 1/2 inch above the top leaf of the plant after the scape has made a nice coil and before it becomes woody and straightens back out. At this point, no additional fertilizer is helpful.
Harvest usually occurs in late July to early August. Taper off watering as harvest approaches.
When the lower 1/3 of the leaves have dried up, it is time to harvest. Use a pitchfork to loosen soil around the bulbs to make it easier to pull up out of the ground but be careful to give the garlic a wide birth. It is very easy to stab the bulbs. If this happens, eat that garlic right away. It won't keep.
Lay the garlic on a wire rack or bundle in groups of no more than ten plants and hang in a place that is under cover, out of direct light, with good air circulation.
Plants usually cure in two to four weeks. If the weather is excessively humid, a fan or two can go a long way in aiding proper curing.
Once cured, cut off tops, brush off the dirt and keep in a cool, dry place out of the light. Never store garlic in plastic or the refrigerator.