Despite the growing season having come to an end here, there is still much to do in the garden. There is the clean-up, of course, the asparagus fronds require a haircut and some mulching, the salad bowl bed requires a tilling (but only half of it, as the collard greens, kale, and leeks are doing just fine in the cooler weather, thank you), and the last of the potatoes were just dug out of the ground last week.
Before this year’s killing frost came, we planted 60 garlic plants with seed garlic given to us by the owner of the Spring House Hotel on Block Island. Sixty may seem like a lot, but it is a minuscule amount compared to the thousands of plants that the Spring House plants in their gardens each season.
Having planted 60 plants, I can attest that once the rows are made, the actual planting is quite easy, but as I’m not the one who weeded, tilled, and made the rows, I imagine that preparing for the planting of thousands of cloves isn’t a task you’d want to do by hand.
Nonetheless, our planting will certainly be enough for two people for one year, and if we aren’t overcome with garlic-eating greed, we’ll save our best heads of garlic from the summer harvest to plant next October.
Like onions, garlic is a long-season crop that likes full sun. The cloves that we planted this fall will (hopefully) grow into bulbs, which will be harvested at the end of next June or the beginning of July, once the leaves start to die back, but there are still five or six green leaves hanging around on each plant.
Unlike onions, garlic is a cold weather crop. It’s best to plant after the first light frost – we were a little early, but, hey, sometimes you have accept that you have to work around your schedule and hope for the best. When planning your planting, keep in mind that cloves need temperatures to dip below 65 degrees in order to develop bulbs.
While we’re on the subject of planting and onions, and while we have the opportunity to engage in a tangent, we’ll be starting our onion seed at the beginning of February, approximately 12 weeks before transplanting them to the garden. Onions need more time to grow than do tomatoes, so if you choose t grow onions, be sure that you start those seeds before you start your tomatoes.
And now, back to the subject at hand, garlic. When planting garlic, use cloves that have their skin and base intact, and only separate cloves from the bulb just before you’re going to plant.
Space your cloves 6-inches apart in rows 18-inches apart. Our friend, Patrick, a former nursery owner, used to plant his garlic 5 to a square foot, with one clove in the center and one clove on each corner, all spaced 6-inches apart, so there is some leeway in spacing, but do be sure that the soil in your garlic bed is loose and rich, and that you’ve thoroughly weeded the space before planting, as garlic doesn’t compete well with weeds (again, like onions, which fare poorly in a weedy spot).
Plant the cloves with the root end down, then cover with 2-inches of soil, and mulch with 6-inches of mulch, which will inhibit weed growth, and will keep the area evenly moist. We’re using a layer of compost on top of the soil to allow nutrients to leach into the bed, topped with a mixture of leaves and straw for our mulch.
Your garlic will be water-needy like roses, and would like an inch of water per week during the growing season, though you should stop watering at the beginning of June to allow for better bulb growth and better flavor.
To keep track of how much water you’re getting from rainfall, take a (clean, of course) yogurt container, mark a line 1-inch from the bottom with a permanent marker on the inside, then set the container in (or near) the garlic bed, and check it after rainfall. If your yogurt container’s weekly total is less than an inch of water, water the bed until you’ve hit the one inch mark.
You may be able to use supermarket garlic for planting, but some garlic sold in supermarkets is treated to keep it from sprouting. My feeling is, if I’m going to bother to grow garlic myself, I’d prefer it not be treated with anything that inhibits its natural cycle.
High Mowing Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange are good places to buy seed garlic if you don’t receive a donation from someone growing thousands of plants, and if you’d prefer not to have your garlic shipped in, ask gardener friends and neighbors if they have any cloves they can spare, buy a couple large heads of garlic at your farmers market, or check with your local garden center or nursery.