Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Planting Garlic

We finally got our garlic planted yesterday. We aim for a week after first frost, and that event was rather late this year. It's both counter-intuitive and oddly reassuring to plant things this late in the year. I've had excellent results in growing hardneck heirloom garlics in my zone 6 garden. So I thought I would describe my method.

First things first: I prepare a bed that I have not used to grow garlic in the past three years. This helps protect garlic from just about the only thing that threatens it: fungus that attacks the roots. I scrape down any weeds, leaving them in place on the soil. To them I add a few leaves from my comfrey plants to act as a green manure, albeit not a living one. Comfrey is a deep-mining bioaccumulator of many nutrients, bringing these minerals to the surface where they can be made accessible to other plants. I make sure the comfrey leaves wilt for several hours in the sun before burying them. The plant has astonishing powers to root itself from cuttings. After that I work the ground over with the broadfork and then apply the lasagna/sheet mulching method. So much for the bed.

The night before I plant my garlic bulbs, I break down the heads of each different type of garlic into individual bulbs, leaving as many of their papery coverings intact as possible. The wrappings protect the bulb from viruses and other unwelcome intruders. Given the damage to this year's garlic crop from our incredibly wet June, I looked over the planting candidates with a very careful eye, rejecting any that showed signs of damage or rot. Those that made the cut got my standard pre-planting treatment. This consists of a soak in a mixture that is both anti-fungal as well as nutritive. It's a mixture of 1 tablespoon of liquid seaweed fertilizer and 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda mixed into one gallon of water. The bulbs soak in this mixture overnight, with each garlic variety I plant in a separate mason jar. They soak for 16 to 20 hours altogether.

The day of planting, I pour about two cups of flour into a container and then rummage around in the garage until I locate my planting template. I made this template from a piece of scrap particle board I fished out of a dumpster. The template has 18 holes, each spaced 8" apart, which is slightly generous spacing for garlic. Originally I had intended to plant the garlic directly through the template, but that didn't work out when I saw how large the bulbs of some heirloom hardneck varieties are. Instead, I lay the template down over a well prepared bed, and dust the flour down every hole. When I take the template away, I can easily see where the bulbs should be planted.

Just before it's time to plant, the bulbs come out of their seaweed and baking soda soak, and go into a much briefer soak in rubbing alcohol. This additional disinfectant soak lasts for just 3-5 minutes. We've used 70% rubbing alcohol in the past, but this year it was 91% pure. While the cloves soaked, my husband did the hard work of making a deep narrow hole at each of the floured spots, punching straight through the newspaper in the lasagna mulch. I try to get the cloves about 4" deep, but sometimes it's difficult to tell exactly how deep they are when I have a lot of mulch on top of the ground. This year I added good compost down each hole dug for the cloves. This year's bed was built in late summer over lawn, so I figure the garlic could use some extra help. That's pretty much it. I don't even water the bed usually. We have enough rainfall in our area that it's not needed, and the bed is pretty well protected from drying out. It's raining today.

The garlic shoots have no trouble making their way through the lasagna mulching. They just come straight up through the hole I punch in the thick newspaper layer with the dibble. The key is to avoid walking on the bed after planting, even though it looks like an empty space in the garden.

Garlic requires more advanced planning and a longer time in the ground than other annual plants. But the payoff is that we eat homegrown garlic from July to December at least. This year we planted a softneck variety too, which should store better after harvest, in hopes of extending our homegrown supply into the spring months, or at least late winter. So here I am in October 2009, thinking about whether or not we'll have homegrown garlic to eat in February or March 2011. Although I started growing garlic in 2007, we're now eating from our second harvest of this crop and wondering how long we can manage to store it. No wonder it takes so long to feel like I know anything about gardening.

Other posts on garlicky goodness:

Garlic Harvest
The Promise of Garlic
The Limits of Garlic
Garlic Scape Pesto
Garlic Scape Carbonara
Garlic Scape Risotto


Anonymous said...

Great info! I'll have to try your soaking methods when I plant mine, which needs to be soon.

el said...

Soaking, hmm. Let us know if that helps out at all. I think just growing it in that lovely lasagna bed will help a lot in terms of the wetness issue. And if the lasagna beds don't work out, have you thought at all about raised beds, Kate, at least for the garlic? You know, the royal treatment for the royal crop.

Two things I do to fix my garlic jones: one, I plant those sprouty, not-perfect cloves in a clump (mark it) and use the shoots as garlic chives and (in April or May) as green garlic. Yumx2. And then of course grow A LOT of garlic to ensure you have enough green garlic to harvest without feeling guilty you're taking away from winter stock!

But I am with you. I will indeed be a very old person before I think I know a lot about gardening.

jake said...

Great info! Looks like Im going to try garlic finally! :) -1916home.net

Lee said...

Thanks for this post on garlic. I'm growing both garlic and comfrey, and am having success with both, but the garlic was from seedlings, not bulbs. Next step is bulbs!

Our comfrey is going crazy - I didn't know you could grow it from cuttings, and might take a few from it to see how I go, to get a few more plants going.

Daharja at Cluttercut

Kate said...

mttf, good luck, and I hope these methods help your crop.

El, I've used these soakings from the very first time I planted garlic. So I have no "control" plot to compare it to. All I can say is that garlic has been a very successful crop for me, so I figure I must be doing something right. As for the bed in the picture here, it's mostly mulch, I'm sorry to say. There's newspaper and a thin layer of good compost underneath it, but it's not as luxurious as the bed we prepared last year. We'll see how it does.

I will definitely keep in mind your garlic sprouting trick. But I also plan to plant garlic chives next year. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing. Better too than having to resort to the "stupormarket" as Julie calls it.

Dave, happy planting!

Daharja, you're welcome. Tread carefully when you propagate that comfrey. It is a rampant grower, as you may already know. It also is pretty much ineradicable once it establishes itself in a new location. That said, it's incredibly useful.

Anonymous said...

Planting the garlic through sheet mulch is a great idea- too bad mine is already in this year! An option I have yet to try is to plant a thick cover of oats and then plant the garlic into the stand as it grows. The oat planting is timed for the stand to mature before it winter kills - the garlic then grows through the oat mulch in the spring. Would think this could also work planting the oats on top of the lasanga mulch.

Also - I LOVE my garlic planting dibble from Johnny's:

Kate said...

Rob, thanks. I like the idea of the oats, but I'm also pretty attached to using my planting template. Seems like it would be hard to do both. However, I've also got that dibble from Johnny's and do love it too!

Joel said...

If you wanted to use the template and oats, you could put in a bamboo skewer or similar, in place of the flour. Anything reasonably rot-resistant that is tall enough to show among the oats...