Thursday, September 5, 2013

How To Plant Garlic

Plant garlic in mid-October up to Thanksgiving (earlier for high elevations.) The idea is for the roots to start growing in the warm soil while not having the tops grow. However some years the tops do come up in November and the garlic does fine anyhow.

Choosing Garlic to plant- Start with locally grown garlic, adapted to our environment. Garlic from California or China or other parts of the world may not grow well here. It also may have been treated with an anti-sprouting agent. Our bulbs average 8 plantable cloves per bulb. 10 bulbs would plant 80 heads. After your first crop, keep the best garlic to replant in your garden.

Site Selection and preparation- Choose a site with full sun and good access to water. Garlic is not too finicky about soil, but it will grow larger with good amended soil. Use organic amendments and/ or cover crops to enrich the soil 3-4 weeks before planting garlic. For fertility and soil health we plant cover crops from organic seed. The last crop is tilled in a month before planting. Our plots are rotated yearly, with cover crops grown on them in between planting years.

How To Plant- Separate cloves up to a week before planting. Select the largest cloves from the largest bulbs. Don’t worry if some cloves are naked or soft. We recommend a hot water treatment before planting to prevent disease. (see details in a future post). Plant each clove 2 to 2 1/2” deep with the pointy end up and 1” soil or more covering the top. Space garlic 5” to 7” apart. Garlic doesn’t cross -pollinate, so different varieties can be planted together. Mulch 2” to 4” with straw or grass clippings ONLY if you are sure there are no herbicides in the mulch. (Many people have experienced herbicide damage with purchased straw.) Water very deeply right after planting. We water about 2” at this time.

Care, Water and Feeding- Green shoots will usually start to show in early February. Water well in late February -this is very important unless we have had a rare winter with lots of snow pack. The garlic bulbs will be tiny without adequate water. Fertilize green shoots 2-3 times in March to May with fish emulsion or other high nitrogen fertilizer unless you have planted in fertile soil. Keep well-watered in Spring and through June. We water up to about a week before harvest. Drip lines work really well for watering garlic. Keep the garlic weeded. May is a big weeding month on our farm.

Scapes- (Hardnecks only) Clip or break the central seed stalk when they make a loop, or shortly afterwards (usually in June.) Clipping the scapes will give you larger bulbs, however your bulbs will store longer if you keep the scape on. Eat the scapes! They will store for 2 months in the fridge.

Harvest- Dig up when half of the leaves are brown, usually June 25- July 10 (earlier for Turban type garlics). This is important. Each leaf represents one layer of wrapper on the garlic. The garlic won’t store as long if it’s harvested late. When harvesting, gently rub some dirt out of the roots but leave the bulbs dirty. Shade immediately and keep shaded. Hang or put on ventilated shelves for 3 weeks to “cure”. They must have very good air circulation for 2-3 weeks. After the curing period clip off the dried stalk and rub off one layer of paper (rubbing off more layers will affect storage life). Also rub extra dirt out of the roots. No need to clip the roots.

How To Store- Store at room temperature or cooler, out of direct sunlight. Cool basements and garages can work well for storage. The bulbs need air circulation, but storing in paper bags can keep them from drying out too much.  If you keep it in the fridge use the vegetable compartment and store in a paper bag. Hardnecks generally store up to 5 months. Softnecks up to 9 months from harvest.