The planting season is not over. It’s time to think about garlic.
Most people who are passionate about cooking consider garlic a necessity. And it’s so easy to grow your own that if you have any garden space, consider planting some this fall. If you have no gardening experience, garlic is a great place to start because it is so easy to grow.
The quality of home grown garlic will be way better than that supermarket stuff.
First step … find some garlic “seed.” It won’t actually be seed … what you plant are cloves of garlic, just like what you eat. Cloves are contained in “heads” that have between 4 and 20 cloves.
The best place to find planting stock is a local farmers market. If that garlic was grown nearby, you know it can perform well. Also, you can talk to the farmer who grew it and get some insight into its qualities.
Although there are dozens of garlic varieties, they are basically two types: hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks have the best eating qualities and are easy to peel but have shorter storage life and lower yields than softnecks.
But even hardnecks store for months. They produce a false flower stalk called a scape shortly before the bulbs are ready to harvest. Scapes are tasty and add another yield component.
Softnecks are what you find in the grocery store. They yield and store well and you can braid their soft necks into attractive arrangements. Fortunately, the culture of hardnecks and softnecks is identical. I grow both.
For planting, select any garden site that hasn’t had onions or other alliums for a few years, if possible. Garlic will tolerate poor fertility but does much better with some fertilizer.
Plant in mid-October. Your goal is to have a couple of leaves peeking through the ground before the soil freezes. Plant individual cloves so that each plant will have about 70 square inches of space. Rows that are a foot apart with six inches between plants work but any arrangement that results in about 70 square inches will do.
Plant the cloves with the pointy end up, about 2 inches deep.
After the soil freezes, mulch the garlic with leaves or straw to a depth of about 3 inches. The mulch moderates soil temperatures, controls weeds, and conserves moisture. In spring, the garlic will resume growth and grow right through the mulch. “Gestation” period for garlic is just like a baby’s … about 9 months. So, if you plant in mid-October, figure on harvest about mid-July. A shot of fertilizer in early spring is a good idea.
And that’s about how easy it is to grow garlic. Or it used to be …. a new pest called Allium Leaf Miner is making it more difficult. Look it up and take appropriate control measures.
I found lots of good garlic publications on-line by adding “.edu” to my search. An excellent book about garlic is titled “The Complete Book of Garlic” by Meredith.
Scott Guiser is a former educator for the Penn State Extension Service, Doylestown.