Most of us aren’t totally homeless and have some inside space. Not all of us have, or want, outside land to farm. Some of us just want to start indoors and then transfer outdoors. To each, his own.
By seed, I mean bulbs. Starting from literal seed is WAAAAAAAAY too hard. Buying garlic heads is much easier, and you know exactly what it’ll turn out to be when it grows up (look at the cloves). I buy mine from the Salt Lake City farmers market (I think the Sandhill Farms guys are there, and they’ve got good stuff). The stuff in catalogs is typically overpriced, but you can do that if you must. And if all else fails, your grocery store has them. Once you’ve got your garlic head, just break it apart and separate the cloves, but don’t remove the outside papery skin.
The Planting Receptacles
Pretty much anything will work – 16 oz tomato cans are a nice start as you can use a can opener (the triangular pokey kind) to facilitate the desired drainage situation. Tin cans have an added benefit with plants started indoors, but meant to transfer outside: you can open the bottom end and slip out the whole thing, instead of attempting to dig out the plant from the top. Pretty non-invasive, unlike some plastic seed starting trays.
A lot of people on the net like cutting open 2-liter bottles, making “self watering” containers and such. Moisture control is critical for indoor plants; I’ve seen a lot of plants go rotten because of excess water in these setups. Its difficult for me to gauge how the water will actually flow/get wicked up at time of construction, so their is a lot of manual fiddling.
You can also do hydroponic setups, but without liquid nutrients as the plant will only grow the green tops. Having never done that personally, I also speculate that the bulbs might not grow all that well in just water, even with the added mojo. The internets also support this view.
Planting the Cloves
You can soak the cloves to give them a kickstart, or use old refrigerated cloves that have already sprung up. Or go au naturel. No bid deal here.
If you are planning on a larger pot, plant bulbs 2 inches down, 5 apart. Otherwise, one per small container. Use some good soil.
You can grow the garlic to full maturity indoors, either under lights or next to a sunny window. Since I have some earth to call my own, I transplant the started garlic outdoors. No matter what you do, as the plant top grows, gently brush the stalk with your fingers, simulating wind – it’ll make it sturdier.
Here’s the deal. If your growing all indoors, it doesn’t matter when you decide to get on your garlic crusade. Plants don’t use calendars; only temperature movements, light cycles, rainfall, etc.
When considering outdoor transfer, remember that planting garlic in the fall is for noobs. Why? To get all Game Of Thrones on you, winter is coming and the night is dark and full of terrors. You never know how miserable winter will be. Plus, you may not know exactly where/if you’ll plant the stuff.
I can hear a faint voice from some petulant garlic-know-it-all in the distance, “But if garlic doesn’t have 30 days of below 40 degree weather, it won’t properly vernalize and split into cloves when growing! This of the yields! You have to plant it in the fall!”
Ha! A noob would say that. Solution to all your problems*? Just use a highly regulated temperature/moisture storage unit: your fridge. You can easily start cloves there. Or transfer already growing cloves for a cold weather period to increase future growth. I understand how fall sowing, done right, can increase the size of your garlic. However, I believe you still get good bang for your buck in terms of size, ease, versatility and predictability when planting indoors with a brief stint in the cooler.
As for the exact timing on spring planting, the USU gardening maestros declare: “plant the cloves as soon as the soil can be worked and the threat of very hard freezes has ended. (http://extension.usu.edu/
files/publications/ publication/HG_2004-02.pdf) “
*And by all, I certainly mean all. There is no room for hyperbole here. NONE.