Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
Planting: Plant garlic in the early to late fall, allowing enough time for the cloves to establish and develop roots (about a month or so) before the soil freezes and winter sets in. If you’re in the northern hemisphere it is time to get off your butt and get that garlic in the ground, STAT. For some of you it may already be too late. I know there are some in zones that go into the teeny tiny numbers who are already experiencing snow and frozen ground. I put the bulk of my garlic in the ground at my community garden earlier last month but I still have a few miscellaneous bulbs that are planned for around the roses and wherever I can fit them into any of the 3 gardens. Unfortunately, I have been putting it off for far too long. Fortunately (or not), our late fall weather has been unseasonably mild buying me some unexpected extra time. And realistically, even if it is too late it’s certainly worth a shot. I have the bulbs, I’m not going to eat them so why not?
To avoid confusion: remember that a bulb is the entire package and is comprised of individual cloves. Before planting, carefully pry the bulb apart into cloves. Although hard, garlic bulbs are tender and should be handled carefully to prevent bruising.
Plant each clove about 2-3 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. Make sure the pointy end is sticking up and the flat, root end down. All healthy, disease-free cloves can be used to grow new bulbs, but as common sense dictates good-sized cloves will grow into good-sized bulbs. Really large cloves are prone to spitting (forming two small plants). If space is an issue plant the best cloves first and save the rest for dinner.
Once planted and covered with soil, add a layer of straw or leaves as mulch to protect the bulbs over winter. Now go back inside and forget about it until springtime.
Once the ground has thawed scratch a bit of compost into the soil around the bulbs. Water sparingly and only when the soil becomes very dry.
Harvest the flower buds (called ‘scapes’) as they appear by cutting them off at the stem with scissors or shears. Garlic scapes taste great fried and pruning them back will improve the size of your final bulbs at harvest time. But don’t cut them all back. Allow a few flowers to bloom for interest in the garden. Garlic flowers have a wonderful architectural look to them and will eventually produce a head of teeny tiny cloves called bulbils that can be eaten or planted out. Keep in mind that the teeny bulbils will produce small bulbs.
Harvest the entire bulb in late summer or early fall when the leaves start to turn yellow. Cure bulbs for long-term storage by leaving them out in the open air and sun until the skins are dry and the necks firm. This usually takes about two weeks. Don’t forget to set aside the largest cloves for replanting your next crop.
Container Growing: Garlic, like other members of the allium family can be grown in large containers that are a minimum of 24 inches deep.