Sometimes garlic is just garlic. And sometimes it is more. This fall, learning more about this wonder crop has been a fantastic distraction from the current political situation. Whenever I find myself despondent after further breaking news, I go where I always go to regroup--the garden.
While the rest of the garden is dying back, brittle from the winds of autumn and blackened from the first frosts, garlic is just getting started. Plus, this fall it has the added bonus of staving off vampires, or perhaps certain presidential candidates....
Garlic is a reminder that we are stronger together. One small clove planted this fall will turn into a coven come spring. Tightly packed little "witches" of an underground secret society, plotting an uprising.
Like most bulbs, garlic is planted in the fall. Mid-October is the optimal time here in zone 4. I always know it's time to plant garlic around MEA (if you're from Minnesota you know what I'm talking about). For all things frost related check our post, What the Frost?
PREPARE THY SOIL
Prepare the soil by tilling it, or loosening it with a hoe, shovel or a hand tool. Add compost if you have it, or purchase organic compost or well-rotted manure.
Garlic needs well-drained soil, it will rot if the soil is too wet.
Adding compost and organic matter will help with drainage, but will not help enough if planted where the soil stays saturated.
Don't forget to rotate your garlic rows if you've grown it in the past season. You should not plant anything in the allium family (onions, shallots, leeks or garlic) in an area used for these crops last year.
PREPARE THY "SEED"
Use only quality "seed garlic." Garlic "seeds" are just individual cloves of garlic. Do not use garlic from the grocery store for planting. High quality "seed garlic" but can be purchased online or at local organic nurseries.
Each garlic bulb contains 5-8 individual cloves. Each clove is planted separately and will produce a full bulb or "head" of garlic.
If you are into saving seeds, you will save the biggest garlic heads from your harvest and plant only the healthiest and robust cloves. They say that this is ideal as garlic "learns" about your unique soil and conditions and adjusts accordingly.
The garlic bulb should be broken apart by hand, don't use tools such as knives as you risk damaging the cloves.
Leave the peels intact, as it protects the clove in the ground. I think of it as it's winter coat, so don't plant "naked" garlic.
Garlic should be planted in rows 12 inches apart.
Use string to create your rows or step it off with one "foot" length between each row. Make a 2-3 inch deep furrow with a hoe or hand tool along the string line.
Each clove should be planted 6 inches apart in the row.
Plant the blunt end of the clove down (this is called the growth plate, where the roots emerge downward), pointy end up, approximately 2-3 inches deep.
Cover with soil and tap down firmly.
Cover all the rows heavily with straw or a mixture of compost and leaves about 6 inches high. Do not skimp! I find that leaves tend to blow away so I first lay down a layer of leaves, then straw.
Mulch will compact over winter and keep the garlic from freezing. The mulch will also hold in moisture, keep cloves from heaving out of the ground during frost/thaw and keep weeds down next spring and summer.
Although I said garlic does not like to be wet, it does need some moisture to start the rooting process. I usually water on top of the mulch just after planting it. You will not see any growth above ground in the fall, but it will be developing roots, so don't forget to water weekly if there is no rainfall before full frost.
There are many varieties of garlic out there, and there really is no right or wrong here. It is best to plant at least 2 varieties in case one variety doesn't do well. Pests usually don't bother garlic, however, there are various diseases that can effect garlic crops.