Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's Time to Plant Garlic!

Oh boy, am I excited – I get to plant garlic this year! Last year I couldn’t be bothered to plant garlic for whomever was going to own my patch of dirt at harvest time. That was one of the worst things about moving – why bother to plant for someone else? I still can’t believe that they mowed down all those delicious fava beans (next project!). It’s soooo nice to do long range garden projects again.

I can never remember from year to year the particulars of growing garlic so I’m going to write up my own personal Garlic Primer. My favorite food gardening book - Golden Gate Gardening – says that Mid-October through November is the best time to plant garlic sets in the sunnier micro-climates of coastal California (that’s means my garden). I might get away with planting garlic as late as the end of February but the later you plant the smaller the bulbs will be. Harvest time is in late June or July.

Garlic prefers soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter but it will grow in most soil types. Dig in a fertilizer that has more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen when preparing the soil to plant. Or – another source says to dig in up to half the nitrogen the plants will need over the growing season at planting time. Whatever – I dug in some E.B. Stone All-Purpose 5-5-5 organic fertilizer and some alfalfa. Plenty of nitrogen – hopefully not too much too soon. That’s what happens when you do your research after you prepare your garden bed. Mulch the garlic with compost or some other organic material to suppress weeds – garlic does not compete well with weeds. Weeds must be controlled early since garlic does not like to have its roots disturbed. When the garlic is actively growing fertilize with something that has more nitrogen such as fish emulsion. Stop fertilizing about 60 days before you expect to harvest, at the latest by May 15th. When the tips of the leaves start yellowing it means that the bulbs are near maturity and need less water. (Move those inline emitter lines!)

Harvest the bulbs when about 40 percent of the leaves are dead. There should be 4 to 6 green leaves left for softneck varieties and 6 to 8 green leaves left for hardneck varieties. If you wait until all the leaves are dead you will have larger bulbs but they won’t have enough of an outer skin left to protect them and they will have a shorter shelf life. Cure the freshly dug bulbs by putting them in a well ventilated, dark space with humidity below 70%, and with a temperature between 40 and 60 degrees F. Direct sun and heat will also shorten garlic’s shelf life.

I planted the cloves 6 inches apart in rows 6 inches apart (6-inch centers), although Golden Gate Gardening says they can be planted 4 inches apart. My gritty soil tends to be lean in nutrients so I figure that the more space for individual plants to find nutrients the better. Six inches also works well since I irrigate with inline emitter lines that have emitters every 6 inches, thus allowing me to place one emitter between each plant. Once planted I laid some bird netting over the soil - not to keep the birds out - to keep the cats from doing their business in that nice loose soil.

This year I chose three varieties that I purchased from the Seed Savers Exchange online catalog Remember to order early, some varieties that I was interested in were already sold out when I ordered on August 18th. Two of them are softnecks – Broadleaf Czech and Tochliavri. The third one is a hardneck – Georgian Crystal – which I’m trying even though hardnecks supposedly grow better in cold winter climates. SSE obtained all of them from The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben, Germany (The Gatersleben Seed Bank). I bought two heads of each variety and ended up with 59 cloves to plant. That means that if the Gardening Goddess is with me I may end up with less than an average of 1 head of garlic to use per week for the next year. After all I will have to pick some very young green garlic (smallest cloves planted in front for easy early picking). And whatever varieties I end of liking I’ll have to save some to plant next year. I’m not sure that will be enough – I’ll have to remember to plant more next year.

Broadleaf Czech is described as mild and full flavored, but hot to very hot when raw. The cloves are tan with a hint of red and there are 8 to 12 of them per bulb. It seems to be a rare variety – only available from SSE.

Tochliavri, aka Red Toch, originated in the Republic of Georgia near the town of Tochliavri. The cloves are streaked medium to light with red and pink. There are 10 to 18 cloves per bulb. SSE says it is the standard by which all other garlics should be judged – very tasty, very popular, and widely available. It supposedly matures earlier than most softnecks. When I separated the cloves from my two bulbs I found that one bulb had white-skinned cloves and the other bulb had darker skins with read streaks. I’ve read varying descriptions of this variety from other catalogs so perhaps this is normal variation. I segregated the two different groups of cloves when I planted them so I can compare them when I harvest them.

Georgian Crystal, aka Cichisdzhvari, is one of the hardneck varieties that supposedly can do well in warm winter climates. It’s a porcelain type with only 4 to 7 big fat cloves per bulb. The flavor is described as mild when raw, smooth and buttery when roasted. This variety also seems to be readily available.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping for a better garlic (and allium in general) crop than I got last year. I've got a lot to learn! It's September, and we've already used about half of what we harvested.


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