Fresh garlic (Allium sativum) is used in abundance in our kitchen, and is more than worthy of reserving some space for in our winter gardens.
Garlic can be planted in our area from late September through late November. We generally try to remember to plant just in time to ward off the vampires around Hallowe’en. Fortunately we managed to plant our garlic crop just before this last weekend’s storm, that gifted us with a much needed 3 inches of rain.
This year we’re planting two common softneck varieties of garlic. California Early, and California Late White, both of which thrive in our growing area.
California Late White has a stronger flavor than Early White, and is relatively heat tolerant. This variety is excellent for storage, and can be braided and stored for up to 8 months.
California Early White in comparison has a sweeter, and milder flavor, with less of the harsh bite typical of the Late White variety, and is a prolific producer, but doesn’t store quite as long as Late White.
Most importantly, we began by selecting a source for the seed garlic that is certified disease free. Although it is possible to plant commercially grown, store-bought, garlic cloves, there is absolutely no assurance that the garlic sold for home culinary use at the supermarket is free of diseases such as white rot (Sclerotium cepivorum).
It’s worth the extra effort, and minor incurred additional expense, to source seed garlic from a reputable grower. White rot is a disease that affects all species of Allium, not just garlic, so try to exclude it from your garden.
As a guide for ordering garlic, on average, a pound of seed garlic bulbs will be sufficient to plant a 25 foot row, spaced 4 inches between plants. Yield at harvest varies with the variety planted, but we expect approximately 10 pounds of yield for each one pound planted.
Preparing garlic for planting is simple. One garlic clove will produce a single bulb of garlic. The individual cloves from our seed garlic heads were separated, and inspected for both size, and quality. It is not necessary to remove the skin on each clove. It is important to discard any damaged or diseased cloves.
By planting only the healthiest, and largest garlic cloves, you are better assured of producing a sizeable, quality head of garlic.
With the cloves separated, the next step was preparing the beds for planting. The beds were turned over, and amended with finished compost to enhance moisture retention and drainage. Our hens of course helped us to turn over the beds.
Garlic prefers to grow in loose, well-drained soil. Generally speaking, looser soils will yield larger heads of garlic. Moisture retentive soils are important, as garlic does not like to completely dry out! A general purpose organic fertilizer was worked into the beds, and amended with organic bone meal, which slowly releases phosphorous to aid in bulb development.
With the beds raked, the individual cloves were planted, and covered with 2 inches of soil. It’s important, as with planting any bulb, to ensure that you’re planting right-side-up. Garlic cloves fortunately have an obvious blunted ‘root’ end, and a pointed ‘shoot’ end.
Note that gophers consider garlic to be haute cuisine!!!
If you have gophers, it’s worthwhile to protect your crop either with gopher baskets or sheet gopher wire. To protect our crop from overhead invasion, we also placed a floating row cover over the garlic as well. Once the soil has cooled, around Thanksgiving, we’ll add a layer of straw mulch to protect the garlic over winter, and then feed once with a balanced fertilizer in early spring.
If all goes well, and we succeed in keeping our gophers at bay, we hope to have a robust garlic crop ready for harvest sometime between mid-May and July next year.