It’s time to get bulbs in the ground

  • Garlic bulbs can be grown in your own garden. Plant in the fall so it can mature next summer. pixabay.com

For the Monitor
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

While you are planting flower bulbs this fall, give some thought to planting an edible bulb – garlic. If you haven’t planted your garlic yet there is still plenty of time.

Our unseasonably warm October weather allows us to stretch the traditional garlic planting date of Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day if you prefer) into early November.

In fact you can plant garlic as late as one to two weeks after a killing frost, which most of the Concord area has not experienced yet.

As long as your garlic has enough time to make some strong root growth before the ground freezes solid, it will be one of the first things to pop up in your garden next spring.

Garlic is sensitive to day length so it begins to mature during the longest days of summer. Spring planted bulbs don’t have enough time to form large heads before the plants begin to die back.

All about soil

Good soil is the key to success for any garden crop but especially so for garlic. It is best to get a soil test and follow its recommendations. Don’t plant garlic where anything in the allium family, such as onions, chives, shallots – has grown in the past three years. Raised beds work great for garlic because they drain well and warm up fast in the spring. Choose a spot that gets full sun, and prepare and amend your garlic bed before planting. Garlic is a heavy feeder and it needs well-drained, loose soil with high organic matter content so be sure to add lots of compost to the bed along with your fertilizer and other soil amendments.

What to grow

If you have grown garlic in the past, you know to save and replant your biggest cloves to get the best heads next season. If this is your first attempt at growing garlic don’t try using bulbs from the supermarket. Chances are it was grown in China or California, varieties that don’t grow in our cold climate, and has been treated not to sprout.

Instead head to the farmers market and buy some organically-grown, local garlic to plant. You can look for certified seed garlic online but by now many sources are sold out. Don’t be shy about asking local growers for advice.

There are many different varieties to choose from with flavors ranging from mild and nutty to hot and spicy. It will be hard to pick just one so grow several kinds, just in case one type does better than another. We grow seven different varieties each year for that very reason.

How to plant

Wait until just before planting to break the bulbs up into individual cloves so they don’t dry out. To prevent fungal diseases you can soak the cloves for 10 to 15 minutes in a 10 percent bleach-water solution before planting.

Don’t plant anything that looks diseased or discolored, is soft, damaged, or too small. If you plant an especially large clove that has two growth points (called a double) it will grow into two small heads instead of a single large one.

A pound of seed garlic should yield about ten pounds of garlic. Planting is easy, just poke the cloves into the ground, pointy end up, about two to three inches deep and four to six inches apart.

Mulch with six to eight inches of straw. Leave this in place in the spring and the newly emerging garlic will grow right through it. This mulch not only protects the garlic from damage due to winter freezing and thawing, but will keep weeds at bay and conserve moisture during the growing season.

Fast forward

When your garlic begins to grow, give it a nitrogen fertilizer boost early in the spring. Continue to feed it with a fish/kelp emulsion fertilizer until the end of May.

About the time of the summer solstice, it will start to send up curling flower stalks called scapes. To keep your garlic from expending its energy on these flower stalks instead of growing bigger bulbs, cut off the scapes.

They make an excellent pesto and lend a hint of garlic to any dish that needs it. You can leave one or two of these loopy scapes standing because they will help in deciding when to harvest your garlic. Near the end of July when the leaves start to yellow and turn brown and the curly scapes untwirl and stand up straight it is time to pull the garlic. Hang it in a shady cool spot with good air circulation to dry. In about two to three weeks, cut off the tops, trim the roots and store in a cold location. Remember to save the biggest bulbs to replant in the fall.

Garlic is an adaptable plant. Over two to three years, it will acclimatize to your growing conditions and, as long as you keep the soil in good condition, your garlic crop will get better yearly.

Garlic is legendary for warding off witches, vampires and evil spirits so keep some handy this Halloween. It is thought to cure everything – except bad breath.