How is Garlic Grown in California?


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How is Garlic Grown in California?

June 13, 2024
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How is Garlic Grown in California?

How is Garlic Grown in California?

Did you know that virtually all of the Nation’s garlic is grown in California? Let’s learn more about how everyone’s favorite “aromatic” veggie is planted, harvested and packaged!

Where does garlic grow in California?

Garlic primarily grows in Central California. Gilroy has long been heralded as the “Garlic Capital of the World”. However, in recent years, Fresno County has overtaken Gilroy in terms of the amount of garlic in production.

Aerial shot of Christopher Ranch's Gilroy Garlic fields

Still, processing for the majority of the Nation’s garlic takes place in Gilroy, resulting in the pungent aroma of garlic greeting travelers as they pass through the small town. So who really deserves the title of “Garlic Capital of the World”? We’ll let you decide…we’re staying out of it!

When was garlic first grown in California?

Garlic, like most other California crops, is rooted (see what we did there) in the Gold Rush. During the 1850s, people from all over the world made their way to the Golden State, hoping to get rich quick. Some did strike it rich, but many others trickled down from the Sierra Nevada foothills – finding that California’s fertile valley soils were the real gem. 

When Italian immigrants settled in Gilroy, they discovered the area’s climate was remarkably similar to that of their homeland. Carrying “starts”, which are bulbs and seeds, along with them on their journey, they found California’s warm sunny days and well-drained soil perfectly suited for growing garlic. 

cloves of cured garlic at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA

How much garlic grows in California each year? 

California farmers produce over 400 million pounds of garlic each year!

When is garlic planted in California?

In California, growers plant garlic in the fall. The “seeds” require cooler temperatures to establish a healthy root system. At Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California, garlic planting occurs around Thanksgiving, but timing can vary slightly throughout the state.

How do growers plant garlic? 

For “seeds” to plant the next crop of garlic, our California garlic growers use individual garlic cloves. A mechanical cracker separates the bulbs into cloves. Then, growers use a specialized mechanical planter, spreading the field with rows of cloves, lightly covering them with soil. Before long, roots emerge from the cloves underground, and leaves begin to sprout up towards the sun. 

While garlic is growing, what do farmers need to watch out for?

After planting, growers closely monitor fields to ensure a premium crop. Here are a few of the things they keep an eye on:

Christopher Ranch uses drip lines to optimize water usage


In most parts of the state, garlic fields don’t require supplemental water from November to April. After that point, growers monitor moisture levels in the soil and water their crop accordingly. For efficient water use, growers use drip lines to keep the water close to the soil. This also helps to avoid problems with rot or fungus. 


Garlic is much less prone to pest issues than other crops. Why? The same sulfur compounds that give garlic its unmistakable aroma also act as a natural pest control. 

person holding freshly harvested garlic


Garlic growers carefully monitor their crop for diseases and fungi, such as white rot. This is critical since fungus can quickly wipe out an entire field and is particularly devastating because it can remain in the soil for up to forty years!


Like many other crops, growers must deal with weeds – which they do in various ways. Some choose to leave them, while others hand-pick or mow them down. Our friends at Christopher Ranch have even tried burning them! 

How long does it take from planting until harvest?

California Grown garlic takes approximately nine months to mature. 

hand holding garlic. The cloves haven't fully developed, so it's not ready for harvest

How do growers know when garlic is ready to harvest?

Growers use a few simple techniques to determine whether garlic is ready to harvest. One way growers gauge whether their garlic is ready to harvest, is by slicing open a bulb and counting the skins. If the bulb has 5-6 skins, it’s time to harvest. Another sign that the crop is ready to harvest is when the cloves “raise up” when sliced. 

When is garlic harvested? 

In California, garlic harvest typically begins in June and is complete by late August. 

a close up picture of a garlic plant

How do growers harvest and cure garlic? 

Five or six weeks before harvest, growers cut the water to the field. Since garlic harvest takes place in the summer months, the leaves and the soil dry out quickly. Cutting the water jumpstarts the curing process and extends the shelf life of garlic. Then, a mechanical harvester passes through the field to loosen the roots. From this point on, hand harvesting happens for the rest of the harvest process. The harvest team pulls the plants from the ground, laying them out in windrows to allow the stalks to dry in the warm California sun.

The harvest team ensures coverage of each set of bulbs with the leaves from the adjacent group, preventing the delicate bulbs from getting “sunburn”. After the stalks have dried out for about two weeks, another team hand trims the roots and stems and stores the garlic in large wooden bins in the field. After a final cure in the warm sun in wooden bins, the garlic is ready for grading, sorting and packaging. 

garlic bulbs at Christopher Ranch

Does garlic have to be cured? 

It’s perfectly safe to consume garlic straight out of the field! So why do garlic growers cure their crop? Curing the garlic doesn’t affect the taste but does result in a longer shelf life. At Christopher Ranch, cured garlic (stored in temperature-controlled facilities) can retain peak freshness for up to 12 months, ensuring a year-round supply!

What happens at the production facility? Sorting, grading and packaging

Does garlic need to be washed or sterilized? 

Unlike many other crops, there’s no need to wash or sterilize garlic. The papery skins naturally protect the product from dirt and pests. 

garlic is machine sorted and then hand graded at Christopher Ranch

What is the process for grading garlic?

Garlic bulbs go through machine-sorting, which separates the bulbs by size. Then, a team of experts takes every single bulb through the process of grading and cleaning. The team inspects each bulb for color and for any defects in the bulb. Often, visual “flaws” can be remedied by simply removing a layer of the skin.

However, it’s a delicate balance, as removing too much of the papery skin results in a product that won’t match retailers’ high expectations. Garlic bulbs with acceptable size and coloring are ready for packaging in a bag or box, and shipping to store as a consumer favorite – garlic.

a team hand sorts Garlic at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA

What happens to the “imperfect garlic”?

California garlic growers and processors take care to use almost 100% of everything they grow. Garlic with cosmetic flaws (typically discoloration) goes to market as peeled garlic. First, the bulb goes through cracking under a series of rubber rollers. Peeling and packaging comes next. Cloves of imperfect, peeled garlic are used to make roasted, chopped, crushed or picked garlic. 

How to store fresh garlic

Store fresh garlic in a cool, dark place with no humidity – the pantry is usually a great choice. 

Want to make your garlic last for six months or more? Check out these tips from our friend Jerry James Stone

How to tell if your garlic is from California?

Look for the CA GROWN license plate on the product packaging or store shelves. Pro-tip: Stores should list the country of origin for produce. If your garlic was grown in the United States, it’s safe to say it was California Grown. Learn more about how to tell where your produce is from!

Garlic, both fresh and peeled, in a shopping cart

Is garlic always in season

California Grown garlic is available year-round. So, why will you still see Chinese garlic on store shelves? Well, the short answer is that it’s cheaper. Obviously, we’re big fans of choosing locally-grown produce whenever possible. Ken Christopher of Christopher Ranch suggests, “If you want to see California garlic at your grocery store, talk to your produce manager, write letters, write emails… because at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make the difference.” We completely agree. 

 Delicious ways to use garlic

Now that you know how garlic is grown, check out a few of our favorite recipes!

Article by Hilary Rance. Photography by Hilary Rance and James Collier.

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