Thursday, 10 October 2013

Garlic Planting Time

A sure sign of fall is planting bulbs in the garden. I have a bunch of daffodils and tulips I need to get into containers, and some new bulbs that I bought from my daughter's preschool fundraiser that I am excited to try. My big bulb project, however, is planting my garlic.

This is my second year planting garlic so I am still a newbie who has much to learn, and I hope to apply what I learned from my experience over the past year for next year's garlic.

Last fall I planted five rows of hardneck garlic in one of my raised beds, with about 5 bulbs in each. I added some of my own compost to the bed, but no other fertilizer. A few weeks after planting, when I was cleaning up my yard and raking leaves I added some dried leaves to the pile for mulch (to protect the bed from frosting, to keep weeds down, and to retain moisture because raised beds drain easily).

I was both pleased with and disappointed by my garlic this summer.

As the garlic began sprouting above the soil in the spring I noticed that many of the plants were being smothered by the leaves, which I had not mulched into small enough pieces. By the time I took all the leaves off the bed it was too late for some. Others that sprouted did not thrive, and I have to wonder if I didn't do enough to prepare the soil in the fall. Garlic is a heavy feeder and I planted them in a bed where I previously grew summer squash, which are also heavy feeders. I was worried that I wouldn't have any useable garlic at all!

I planted garlic from two different sources - West Coast Seeds and The Sharing Farm. Initially I thought the garlic from The Sharing Farm was doing better (was thriving more), but in the end the garlic from West Coast Seeds had a higher success rate when I harvested them. I was thrilled with the garlic scapes that I harvested in late June / early July, and for I while I was thinking hat this was all I was going to get out of my garlic. I made scape pesto and sautéed the scapes in stir fries as I would with garlic cloves. So fresh and summery!

In the end I pulled about fifteen bulbs out of the ground, but after drying only about eight or nine were edible. I could have saved all my precious garlic bulbs for myself, but what fun would that be? I shared with garlic loving family members and they all reported that the garlic was pungent and delicious.

So this year I did things slightly differently.

I didn't have any of my own compost ready so I bought organic manure and added it to the beds. Turning the soil and taking out all the left over plants and weeds was a back breaking job because I had some volunteer grape tomatoes in my squash this summer. There were so many little green and rotting tomatoes that I had to pick out because I don't want my bed to be overrun by them next year, as much as I want to encourage tomatoes in my garden.

Next I dug five troughs lenth-wise in my bed, rather than 5 width-wise as I decided to increase the amount planted. Then I added a commercial organic fertilizer liberally to the troughs before adding the cloves.

Before planting, I separated all the bulbs into individual cloves, selecting only the healthiest and largest cloves from each.

Into each trough I planted about a dozen cloves, making sure to plant the cloves the correct way with the pointed end up and the rooting end down. Two thirds of my garlic bed is hard neck garlic again because I love the bonus of scapes before the bulbs are ready. The remaining third is some soft neck varieties because I want to experiment with braiding the garlic.

After covering each of the troughs, I covered the entire bed with glacial rock dust just to be sure that I'm adding back essential minerals to the soil.

The last step was to mulch the garlic bed. This time I decided to use good old fashioned straw, just like all the books and websites recommend. The straw will not smother the seedlings but it will retain moisture. I bought some at our local pumpkin patch and I am using the remainder of the bale as part of our Autumn / Hallowe'en display in the front yard.

To summarize the steps I followed this year:

  • prepare the soil by removing weeds, plants and adding in compost and fertilizer
  • dig troughs or holes approximately a few inches deep
  • separate the garlic bulbs into individual cloves
  • add additional fertilizer to each hole
  • plant the cloves root end down and pointed end up
  • cover holes
  • add any additional fertilizer or glacial rock dust 
  • cover garlic bed with mulch, preferably straw, although leaves could work if they are mulched into small enough pieces. 
  • cross fingers and wait patiently for next spring to see the results

I have recently learned about people planting their garlic on the full moon for increased production! Too late to try that this year - already something to add to the list for next year's garlic planting.


Disclosure: I did not receive compensation for any of the products shown in this post. I purchased them myself and included them because I like them.

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