October is on the way: time to plant garlic!
By David Silver on September 18, 2012, 10:14pm
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories.
There is nothing like the taste of garlic from your own garden and the varieties of garlic available for the home garden are nothing like the garlic you buy at the grocery store chains. There are many varieties of garlic you can get to plant. Some have a lot of spice and bite and others are milder and you can choose to plant what you personally would like for your kitchen. This year I am planting Georgia Fire and German Red. In past years I have also tried Russian White, Porcelain and a variety called Music. Each has its own distinct taste and its fun to experiment with new varieties from year to year along with planting old favorites.
There are two main types of garlic: softneck and hardneck. The softneck varieties generally store better than the hardneck and do better in southern climates. Each clove of a softneck produces many garlic bulbs. The hardneck forms a larger, single bulb and also produces a flowering stalk called the scape. Garlic scapes can be diced and sauteed and give a mild garlic flavor to many dishes. Garlic scape recipes are available online.
First things first. You cannot use garlic from the grocery store to grow garlic. Garlic in grocery stores has been sprayed with a chemical to prevent the garlic from sprouting. You need to order seed garlic and there are many companies online that carry seed garlic. But now is the time to order. It is getting late in the season so some sources may be sold out. You can also pick up some seed garlic at the 2012 Bethlehem Garlic Festival on October 6th and 7th.
Garlic is not fussy about where it will grow, but you will get a better bulb if the soil is well composted and has good drainage. A pH range of 6 to 7 works well and the site should have a minimum of 5 hours of sun.
To plant garlic, break the bulbs apart with your fingers. Do not use a tool because you do not want to break the skin. The garlic clove should be entirely intact and completely covered with skin. Each clove will yield an entire bulb of garlic next summer. The larger cloves will yield a larger bulb and the smaller cloves will yield a smaller bulb. I like to just use the larger cloves and I save the smaller bulbs for cooking.
Garlic should be planted four to six weeks before the ground freezes. I plant my garlic just after Columbus Day week-end. That gives the garlic time to send out roots. Plant the cloves 4 to 5 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Each row of garlic cloves should be about a foot apart.
Plant the garlic clove with the narrow tip facing up and the wide end facing down and then pat down the soil with your hand. Apply a good 4" of mulch over the row. I like to use Mulchmaster straw hay. This is the compressed hay that comes in bags. The hay can be removed if you like in the early Spring after all danger of a freeze is past or you can leave it on. I find that my garlic does better if I leave the straw hay on for the entire growing season.
Garlic is a heavy feeder and a source of Nitrogen such as blood meal will help the bulbs to grow. Even watering in early Spring also helps the bulbs get started and shortly the leaves will emerge. The leaves get taller and taller and sometime in June the garlic scapes appear. This flower stalk will lengthen and make a curlique turn. When it makes the turn, its time to cut off the scape. Whether cutting the scape produces a bigger bulb is some matter of opinion. In any case, the scapes are a real treat so my advice is to cut them off.
Harvesting garlic begins a few weeks after the scapes are cut. Here, in the northwest hills of Connecticut, this is usually the end of June to the middle of July. There is a bit of a learning curve to harvesting garlic. If you harvest too early, the bulbs will not get to their full size. If you harvest late, the garlic will not form skin and will not store. The best clue that garlic is getting ready to harvest is that the lower half of the garlic leaves will turn yellow and brown. At this point, you can dig a few of the bulbs up and see what size they are. Brush the soil away until the bulb is fully exposed and then gently dig under the roots with a trowel. Be careful not to bruise the garlic when harvesting. Getting the timing right on harvesting garlic is a bit of a challenge because each season is different and not all the garlic in the row, even if it is of a single variety gets ripe at once. So digging up a few bulbs when you think they may be ready is the best way to go each year.
Do not wash the garlic. Rather, gently brush the soil off and hang the garlic with its leaves and roots on in a warm, dry place out of the sun for three to four weeks to cure. If you live to the South and it is humid, then cut the leaves and roots off for the curing process. When curing is complete, check the bulb wrappers on the inside of the bulb to be sure they are dry. If they are not dry, then the bulbs need to hang for a bit longer. Store the cured garlic between 50 to 55 degrees for use all Winter.
Once you have had garlic from your own garden, you'll never want to go back to store bought. So get that garlic bed prepared and let's get planting!
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories.