Friday, October 18, 2013

Garlic Planting!

I've decided I'm never not planting garlic again.

I'm not entirely sure what it is about this crop, but it's immensely satisfying for how easy it is to grow.  It's kind of like carrots, for me: I always had in mind that it was difficult to grow, therefore my satisfaction at succeeding at the endeavor is disproportionate cause for delight.

Garlic is best planted in the fall, at least where we live, and that's why I thought it was an intimidating crop.  I mean, anything that takes three seasons to produce must be kinda high maintenance, right?

Yeah, not so much.  All the books say garlic likes to be kept free from competition (read: weeds), but I plant mine in raised beds, so weeds are just about zero problem.  As the beds get older, more random weed seed does make it into the dirt via wind, but they're easy to pull and I mulch anyway, so it's not a big deal. Other than that, they pretty much take care of themselves, with the one exception of cutting off the hardneck scapes when they get curly (to focus more energy into the bulb).

I planted garlic last year and got a good crop off of it, so this year I get to plant garlic from my own successes!  This is particularly awesome because garlic-- well, it's stupid pricey.  Like, thirty bucks a pound for organic, pricey. I didn't get organic last year-- I don't think I even thought of it, I just grabbed what the local nursery had. What they had was from a local farm, so at least I did one thing right as far as virtuous food buying goes. You can only be so obsessive, and I take it further than most folks already.

Today was absolutely gorgeous out, and the blue skies and sunshine (and possibly a double shot latte) all added up to a level of enthusiasm for garden work that I haven't felt in awhile.  Fall so far has really felt more like winter, so the garden work that needed done so far (there's been a good bit of end-of-season chores) has been done with no particular interest and a great deal of will power and layered clothing.

The fun part was planting garlic.  I planted both main types, softneck and hardneck.  Hardneck is on the left, and it's botanically "normal".  Softneck is on the right, and it's the type that most supermarkets carry, and that can be braided.  Softneck is apparently a mutation that has been encouraged by commercial breeders because it's easier to deal with, having no stiff center stalk, but the downside is that it doesn't store as long.

I don't have any idea which types I planted.  Last year I planted about eight types and carefully segregated them and kept track of them on a chart.  When I harvested them, I did the same.  But I'm no garlic connoisseur, and by the time I got ready to braid them and decorate the kitchen with them, I knew very well that I didn't really care which was which.  I know they all have different flavors and a real chef might use them accordingly, but I'm not a real chef, and this wasn't a battle I had much interest in fighting.  So this year, I planted hardneck and softneck, and no further information was kept track of.

Anyway, I cut off several heads of each type and headed to the garden.  Last year I planted 48 cloves, and discovered that it wasn't really enough, since not only do we need to eat on it until next July, but we also need to plant next year's crop out of it.  So at the expense of our garlic stash, this year I planted 64 cloves.  We'll see if that ends up being enough.

Garlic cloves, incidentally, are entirely predictable.  While clove size may vary from breed to breed, within the breed planting the largest cloves will produce the largest bulbs-- which is why I now have a bunch of small bulbs hanging on my wall, having sacrificed the biggest ones to planting.  The hardneck ones were walnut sized, which was kind of delightful.  Of course, size is no indicator of flavor, and in fact I've heard that the largest garlic ("Elephant Garlic") isn't all that good tasting.  But I'm not quite evolved enough to look at things that way, and to me, big cloves means I just have mad gardening skills.  Don't disabuse me of the notion.

Here's some of the cloves:

I planted a full 4x4 bed with garlic this year.  Last year I did about 3/4 of a bed.  In normal garden dirt you might want to space them a little further apart, but in my raised beds I placed them six inches apart every direction.  I fudge spacing in the raised beds because they're not just top soil, they're almost solid compost.

I don't measure depth for seeds; I just go by the rule of thumb: plant 4x as deep as the seed is tall.  And I guesstimate.  It doesn't seem to cause any problems, except as previously mentioned, with carrots.

By the way, here's some info that you'll never find in a gardening book, and is slightly crucial to know: do not peel the cloves before planting.  Seriously, I had to search all over the place for this knowledge and never found it in a book-- I ended up getting semi-certain advice from a friend, took a chance, and she was right.  I'm not entirely sure how this conundrum came to be.  There are hundreds of books out there for beginner gardeners, and yet somehow they never answer this question.  If I'm man enough to own that I'm so clueless about garlic that I don't know whether to peel it or not before planting-- shouldn't there be a book to meet that need after I've made that admission?  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, you plant the cloves flat side down, where the roots were coming out of when it was in bulb form.  This seems backwards to me, because the very pointy clove seems like it should be pointed down.  I'm not sure why, maybe it just brings to mind an arrow: "This end down."  ...but apparently not.

So I planted them and dumped some more compost on top.  (This particular box has been used for two years without any nutritional additions, so I added to it this time.)  Then I added 3-4" of straw on top of that to get it all through the winter.

And, since this is Montana, I also put some spare window screen on top.  The purpose was twofold: to prevent wind from blowing straw everywhere, and to maintain city perceptions of backwoods class.  It's pretty successful on both accounts.  I could have gone the plywood route, but I thought I'd allow it some fresh air and sunshine.

And come next spring, we'll have green shoots coming up through there!


  1. See? This is a bonus of having kids . . . they teach you stuff. The extent of my garlic knowledge is how to crush it through my Pampered Chef mincer. Impressive, love.

  2. I LOVE garlic! Thanks for this post, I learned a bunch. Disappointed in the guy I bought our garlic from, he never mentioned covering it with straw to get it through the winter. Next summer you'll have to teach me how to do the garlic braids =)

    1. I'm not positive they need it for the cold...I think primarily the straw is for keeping the ground from heaving the garlic up as it freezes and thaws back and forth. But it keeps the weeds down in spring and is easy enough to throw on. We'll have a garlic braid day, the kids will love it. :-D