Planting garlic: Excitement and agony

A guest post by Farmer Matt

Who doesn’t get excited by growing gorgeous, flavorful bulbs of garlic with names like Music, Cherokee Red, Broadleaf Czech, Tochliavri, Inchelium Red, and Elephant Garlic?  Some people advocate planting around here in August, others in October after the first frost.  Last year I planted in August with good results, this year, due to the little one, I’m finally got it in on October 8 (no frost here yet), so we’ll see how it does.  For seed stock, I saved garlic from this year’s crop to replant and bought new varieties from Seed  Savers.  Time and conditions permitting, I may buy some Elephant garlic from Whole Foods and try to get that in as well.

Soil Prep
I definitely recommend planting garlic sometime in the fall for harvest early the following summer.  I plant it in well worked soil with good drainage and plant it in beds to avoid compacting the roots; this also makes it easier to apply a heavy layer of mulch.

Gently separate cloves, leaving as much of the paper wrapper on them as possible; plant 6-8” apart, or 12” apart for Elephant garlic.  Plant cloves pointed-end up, cover with ½-1” of soil, and then mulch with leaves, ideally chopped.

I cut off scapes in the spring when they’re about 12” long, and harvest when the plant’s leaves start to yellow, checking the bulbs for the cloves bulging through the wrappers to confirm that it’s time to harvest by gently digging the plants up from below.

The agonizing part is that with garlic the “seed” is exactly the same clove you want to eat.  Even worse, it’s one of the few plants where planting the largest cloves makes a big difference in the size of the bulb you’ll harvest next year, so you have to plant your most beautiful, gorgeous garlic to keep your quality high.  As I’m working on increasing my planting stock and my harvest, I had to plant most of my garlic.  I planted about 175 cloves, roughtly 30 bulbs.  My mother and my family have eaten maybe 8 bulbs each so far, and we both have 8 bulbs left, so we’ve used 32 of the smallest bulbs, and I’ve replanted half of this year’s harvest.


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