Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The garlic is planted!

This year I planted my garlic on the 2 days after the full moon. Some folks believe that when the moon wanes after it has been full, a strong gravitational pull is created that draws more energy down into the soil and into root growth. That's why the few days after a full moon are believed to be the best time to plant garlic which is a bulb and needs to develop it's roots once it's planted. I don't know that much about it but I'm attracted to the idea of following the phases of the moon while I garden. This year, the 2 days after the November full moon, the 3rd and the 4th seemed like really good timing for planting garlic here on the coast.

Many folks who visit the garden tell me they'd like to grow garlic and ask me how to do it.

So here's what I do:

1. Prepare a growing spot. Garlic likes rich soil with lots of organic matter. I add composted manure, garden compost and complete organic fertilizer to my growing beds.

2. In late October or early November I separate the cloves of the planting bulbs. I try to do this just before I plant. Be careful not to damage them...I have read that a little nick can encourage disease in the soil to develop as the clove sits during our long wet coastal winters. You can buy planting garlic from organic farmers in your community or from seed companies that sell it.

Here's a snapshot of some garlic cloves separated and waiting to be planted.

3. I plant the cloves into trenches I've made in the soil or sometimes I make holes with a dibble and place each clove in the hole, pointy end up. Each plant will need about 4-6 inches between it and it's neighbour to grow into a nice big bulb. I put each clove down about 4-6 inches and cover the hole with soil.

Below, I'm placing the cloves into the soil.

4. When the cloves are all planted and covered with soil, I mulch with a nice thick layer of compost. I don't mulch with straw over the winter.
Later in the season, (April or May) I'll add more compost and mulch with straw to help keep the soil from getting too dry. I have to be careful to conserve water and am fortunate to have a garden in a very wet area. If it's a really dry spring I may water 2 or 3 times but last year I didn't water at all. My garlic probably would have been larger if I had watered it but it's still good. You'll have to plan for water collecting if you garden in a very dry spot.

5. Around the beginning of June, I'll remove the scapes which are the curly flower stalk of the garlic plant. I've read that if this is removed, the plant puts it's growing energy into producing a larger bulb underground, rather than producing seeds. Some people have told me that they don't think this makes any difference but I love the pesto I make from the scapes, so I remove them for a tasty late spring treat!

Removing and collecting the scapes from the garlic plants.

6. I do my best to keep the bed weeded and in July, I harvest my garlic bulbs when I see that the bottom 3 or 4 leaves are dead and the top few are still green. I often pull a couple just to make sure it's ready.

7. After the garlic is pulled, I cure it in my shed that is cool, protected from the sun and well ventilated by an occasional sea breeze. I don't think it's a very good idea to cure it in the sun. After 3-4 weeks of this curing, it's ready to clean up and take to the kitchen.

Below is a photo of the harvested garlic curing on racks under the garden workshop roof. For some folks, it's more convenient to bundle the plants up in groups of 6-8 and hang them from the ceiling to dry.

One of the things I love about my garlic crop is that it gives me 3 harvests during the growing season:

1. Early in spring or sometimes even in late winter I harvest some new little plants and use them as I would green onions, mostly chopped up and thrown into something, even just a salad. Yum! What a welcome taste of fresh green flavour at that time of year.

2. In June, I harvest the scapes and make Garlic Scape Pesto.

3. And in July, I finally get to harvest the bulbs!

The first year I grew garlic I was so excited to realize that I could keep the stalks on some of my bulbs and use them as kitchen decoration first, before we eat them. The stalks can be put in a vase with the bulb up, displayed as a garlic bouquet. It looks lovely! Folks love receiving this as a gift too.

I'm wishing you great success with your garlic crop this year!

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