Saturday, October 03, 2009

Growing Garlic in your Home Garden - It's Time to Plant!

Separate your harvest and save the largest bulbs for planting.

Plant with the cloves pointed up.

Garlic in the spring.

Hardneck scapes. Some gardeners clip them off for bigger bulbs.

Why Grow Garlic?
Growing garlic in a home garden is actually pretty easy. Watered by the winter rains and eschewed by most bugs, it practically takes care of itself. Doug and I have been growing it for years and have planted many different types that you could never find in grocery stores. If cured properly, it will keep for many months (see my post on Harvesting and Curing Garlic). Once you’ve eaten home grown garlic, you will want to grow your own forever. Your friends and neighbors will also enjoy receiving these little exotic jewels from your garden.
Garlic is also a nutritional power food. It has been associated with cancer prevention, lowering cholesterol, bolstering immunity, cleansing blood and having antibiotic, antiviral, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal properties. Its powerful phytochemicals include saponins, quercetin and organosulfurs like allicin. Their disease fighting qualities are enhanced when the garlic is chopped and set aside for 15 minutes before being heated. It's even more powerful if eaten raw.
When to Plant
The best time to plant is in the fall. The goal is to plant when the weather is still warm enough that the cloves will germinate before it gets too cold. Plant 4 to 6 weeks before you experience ground freezing. Here in Northern California, I usually plant sometime in October. In warmer climates, like Texas, mid to late October is recommended. In mild climates like these, we've actually planted even later in the fall with successful results but, then again, it rarely freezes here. In a few weeks after planting, you'll see green shoots sprouting up.
What Garlic Likes
Garlic likes sunshine, so pick a sunny spot in the garden. It does best in a sandy-clay-loam soil with a pH around 6.5 and good drainage. If the soil doesn’t drain well, the growing bulbs will rot. Soil should be cultivated with plenty of organic matter, like well composted manure, down at least 6 to 12 inches. Garlic roots will grow nice and deep if the soil is well prepared.
What to Plant
There are so many interesting varieties of garlic available. If the local nursery has a good selection, that’s great. But please, resist the urge of picking up a packet of shriveled old bulbs in the local hardware store. Check out some of the interesting organic garlic stores online that offer a better selection. Last year I planted 4 different softnecks (Early Red Italian, Kettle River Giant, Susanville and Siciliano) and one hardneck (Killarney Red). One year I really got carried away and planted over a dozen varieties and nearly 400 plants. Make sure you save the biggest bulbs from your harvest for the next years planting. To buy new garlic stock, I go to The Garlic Store in Colorado. My friend John has had good success with a Texas company, Gourmet Garlic Gardens . They offer helpful information about their stock and what may grow best in your area. They also sell “sampler packs” so you can try different varieties. But hurry, I’ve noticed that stock is selling out quickly.
How to Plant
After you’ve prepared your garden, separate the garlic bulbs into individual cloves. Do not do this more than 1 to 2 days before planting or they will dry out. The biggest cloves are said to produce the biggest plants so plant the big cloves and eat the smaller ones.
Plant the cloves with the pointy side up and the flat root side down. If the ground is soft, push the cloves in with your finger. I usually use a dowel or a broom handle to poke holes in the dirt and drop the cloves in the holes and cover them with an inch of soil. The bottom of the clove should be about 2 inches below the surface. The recommended spacing is 4 to 6 inches apart. I like to pack them in to discourage the weeds so I also plant the rows 6 inches apart. Every 6 rows I leave a 2 feet space so I have room to walk through and weed. To cut down on weeds and to keep the little plants warm, I use mulch.
If you are planting more than one type of garlic, keep a log and a little map of the quantity and location of each variety. Keep them separated when harvesting, curing and storing. This is necessary in order to identify the stock for the following year’s planting.
We water regularly after planting and during germination but since we are in a climate where it rains all winter, we don’t water again until spring. If you are in a drier climate, you should water during the winter and the spring. You should stop watering during the last 4 weeks of growth, around mid to late June. This allows the wrappers to dry out.
Fertilizing and Weeding
Besides the manure that is worked into the soil before planting, we fertilize twice with seaweed fertilizer, once after the shoots appear and once again in the spring. The Garlic store warns not to fertilize after late May or it can actually cause smaller bulb size. Liquid fish fertilizer can also be used but it smells a lot worse than seaweed. Garlic plants hate weeds so don’t let them take over.

For harvesting information, see my post on Harvesting and Curing Garlic. Although you won’t need this for many months, it’s fun to see what you have to look forward to!

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