You Can Still Go For The Garlic!

I know it’s November and the leaves have fallen… Winter is so close that you can literally feel it getting closer each day. But you don’t have to let all of your planting aspirations disappear just yet, for you still have time to grow some garlic!  It’s o.k. to plant garlic up until the ground freezes and is actually good to wait until it is consistently cool.

Garlic is really easy to grow as I found out this past year.  I planted two varieties last fall in a small section of one of the raised beds.  In July, I harvested the garlic and we’ve been enjoying it in soups, salsa, pastas, pizzas, etc… ever since.  The flavor has been grand and it was so easy to grow that last week I was out getting ready to grow my own again.

This year I’m growing ‘Chesnok Red’ and ‘German Red’.  Both are hardneck which means I will get two harvests instead of just one.

You may be thinking, “Come again, TWO harvests?”

Hardneck varieties of garlic send up a round stalk (a.k.a. scape) mid-season and when this stalk curls you can snap it off and use it as your first garlic harvest.

Photo Courtesy of Island Vittles

The scapes can be used just like scallions.  Basically think of them as scallions that taste like garlic!  The scapes have all the health benefits garlic offers and by cutting them you are helping the plant put more energy into the garlic bulb that is forming below the ground.  It’s a win/win for garlic lovers!

Don’t sweat it if you didn’t already know this…I learned about it this last growing season and actually missed the window to harvest my scapes!  I gazed at the curly tips thinking they were “cool” but as I read other garden blogs mid-summer I realized the “pig tails” were more than interesting form.

So this year I’m reminding myself as much as any of you that are new to garlic growing – get two harvests out of hardneck garlic!

Thinking about one last act of planting and going for garlic?  If so, read on and then don’t dilly-dally for “Winter is a coming”…

Where To Get It? – This is the most complicated part of growing garlic if you are a local reader (meaning you live in southern Idaho).  This is because all garlic grown in southern Idaho must be inspected for white rot disease and then certified that it is free of this enemy.  White rot is fungus that can be on or within what seems to be perfectly untainted garlic.  However, once in the ground the fungus becomes active and can turn garlic or onions in the area into mush. Since Idaho has a 55 million dollar onion industry, it has placed a quarantine and certification process on all seed garlic to be planted in southern Idaho.

So, to answer the simple question, local readers get your garlic from any local nursery so you know it is certified and o.k. to plant (DO NOT plant garlic from the grocery store).  All other readers check to see if you have certification requirements in your area and then get your garlic seed from what seems to be the best source available.  Keep in mind, this will most likely be local nurseries or farms or mail orders that specialize in garlic seed.

What Kind To Plant? The general rule of thumb is that hardneck garlic varieties do best in cold climates and softneck varieties do well in milder climates.  However, you can experiment and see what does best in your garden.

Planting Your Garlic  Once you’ve made your selection and have it at hand, prepare for planting.  Choose a sunny site that has loose, fertile, well-draining soil.  Mix in a couple of inches of compost to the chosen site.

Next “bust apart” in a gentle way (not always easy!) the individual cloves from the head of garlic.  Keep the paper sheath around each individual clove intact.  Use a bulb planter to dig holes 3-4 inches deep just as you would for spring-flowering bulbs.  Space the holes 4-5 inches apart within a row.  Rows can be 10-20 inches apart.

My rows are a bit closer together because I’m growing in a raised bed which means a limited about of space.  I plant about 20 cloves (so a very moderate amount) in two rows and have not experienced a problem with the rows being closer together.

Now plant the individual cloves in the holes with the root end (blunt end) down.  Gently push the clove into the soil and inch or so.  This way it will have good contact with the soil and will insure a straight neck.

Now cover the cloves with 3-4 inches of soil and if no rain is expected water well.  It is also a good idea to spread a couple of inches of mulch over the top of the garlic for cold protection and to keep moisture in the soil.  Leaves work great as a mulch for garlic if you don’t want to buy mulch from a nursery or garden center.  Remember to remove the mulch in Spring as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

Growing Your Garlic  Garlic likes water so once Spring has arrived and you see the green tops peeking through the soil make sure the water supply is maintained.  Be careful to not overwater though or the bulbs (garlic heads) will rot.  Garlic also likes food but the amount of fertilizer you should use depends on your soil.  Generally speaking, it is wise to mix in composted manure or a well-balanced fertilizer in the spring.  Some gardeners water with fish or kelp emulsion a couple of times in early spring to give the bulbs a boost.

Be careful to not overdo it with fertilizer or you will end up with lots of leaves and a small bulb.  Everything in moderation should be a good strategy unless your soil is particularly lacking fertility and the ability to hold moisture.

Digging Your Garlic  In mid-summer the bottom leaves of the garlic plant will start to turn yellow.  This is the sign to stop all watering for 2-3 weeks and then your garlic will be ready to harvest.  Gently pull up the entire plant with the help of hand trowel or garden fork and place entire plants in a shady area to cure.  The best place to cure garlic is a shady place with good air circulation so perhaps a garage, covered patio or barn. Do not place garlic in a sunny location to cure or it will sunburn and then rot.

I place my garlic on plastic racks/screens to insure good air circulation around the heads and then place them on my shady patio for a couple of weeks.  After that I trim the stalks of the garlic and let it sit out for another 2-3 days.  The air in my climate is extremely dry so a 2+ week curing process is all that is needed.  In climates with a lot of moisture in the air a longer cure may be wise as the curing process determines how well the garlic will store.

If you have clay soil and it is stuck to the garlic heads gently wash it off with fresh water being careful to not soak the garlic.  Another alternative is to get a wet rag and carefully wipe it off. You can trim the roots to 1/4″ at this time if you like.

Storing Your Garlic  It is important to store the garlic in a dark environment where the temperature does not fluctuate much (60-70 F) and there is good ventilation. I use mesh bags and store them in my pantry for convenience.  A cupboard would work great too.  Just remember to keep the garlic in the dark as much as possible.  I’ve read about storing garlic in braids which is supposed to be a preferred method of storage but I have not tried this. Different types and varieties of garlic have different storage lives, but as a general rule hardneck varieties can be stored for about 6 months and softneck varieties a bit longer maybe even up to 11 or 12 months for some types.

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