The Quest for Garlic Greatness

This year's garlic harvest was absolutely our most successful. Like growing onions from seed, our initial attempts ended in varying degrees of disappointment. This post is meant to document what we did this time, so we can repeat - and hopefully, build on - our success.

We ordered Russian Red and Georgian Crystal (both from The Maine Potato Lady). All of the Russian Red produced, with a number of them becoming doubles. Sadly, several of the Georgian Crystal cloves never broke ground and only a few produced large bulbs.

We planted on Halloween. (In the years that we planted earlier, the plants came up a week later. This isn't supposed to happen.) The cloves were planted 4" deep and spaced 6" apart. There were four rows, spaced 8" apart. Compost was added to the soil, but manure would also have been good.

Last fall, we mulched the garlic with 3-4 inches of mulching hay from our local Agway. It worked very well as a thermal buffer over the winter and did not become matted or rotten in spring. (In previous years, we used about 6 inches of salt marsh hay.)

We did not remove the mulch and side dress the rows with fertilizer in the early spring. However, reliable sources on garlic culture say that we should have.

Removing Scapes
The scapes appeared in mid-June. Once we noticed them curling upward, they were removed and enjoyed as a culinary treat. (Apparently, this is the one thing we've done correctly all along. Removal of the scape sends more energy to the bulb.)

The garlic bed was watered normally (with the rest of the garden) through the fall and spring. Then, we stopped watering 2 weeks after the scapes appeared to allow the bulbs to begin curing before harvest. (This was also done in the last few years.)

We harvested earlier this year, when only the 3 bottom leaves on the plants had turned brown. (When we allowed all the leaves to turn in previous years, the outer wrappers degraded.) After loosening the soil from below with a garden fork, each bulb was lifted out and gently brushed off. (We had made the mistake of rinsing in previous years.)

Storing Seed Bulbs
The best 6 bulbs of the crop were set aside for this fall's seed garlic. We will leave the plants inside (out of direct sun) for 2 weeks. Then we will lightly trim the stems and roots and continue storing them for replanting this fall.


2013 Alliums (end of season notes)

Garlic: planted fresh stock this fall, sprang up fast!
Leeks: our best yet – transplant into 6-packs with other seedlings & plant later next year
Onion sets: our best yet. Planted farther apart than usual in single row around tomato beds
Onion seeds: great progress – transplant into 6-packs with other seedlings, plant rows closer together
Scallions: first planting did well, lasted – try broadcast planting early and harvest through season?

Greeting Spring

It's the middle of March -- the perfect time to begin the gardening season. Unseasonable warmth is bringing everything quickly back to life. The Garlic is up, and last fall's Kale and a few Spinach seedlings have survived the winter. The Perennial Herbs are greening up as well. The soil is still a chilly 42° F, but it digs nicely. Next Saturday we'll officially open the garden and begin planting!

Fall Plantings: Garlic & Jerusalem Artichokes

This year, we've been granted permission to leave the garden in place over winter. So, our first garlic has been planted! We chose a stiff-neck  variety (Purple Glazer) and planted the largest cloves 6" apart in two 12" rows down the center of the 6' x 9' bed. The smaller cloves were planted somewhat closer together in a third row, which we plan to harvest as garlic scallions next spring.
In addition, the garden's year-round status allowed us to plant our first perennial vegetable: Jerusalem Artichokes (or Sunchokes). Cultivated by Native Americans, this species of sunflower is prized for its sweet, nutty tubers and decorative flowers. Jerusalem Artichokes are a good source of potassium and iron, and are also more suitable for diabetics than potatoes because their carbohydrate is in the form of inulin.
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