A Passion For Garlic (cont)
By: Vicky Congdon
When to Plant
In most areas, garlic is fall-planted four to six weeks before the ground freezes to allow the roots to get established. In the Midwest and the North, this typically means October. In the South and where winters are mild, garlic is planted in November and December. The following spring, the aboveground growth can then get off to a rapid start to sustain the development of large bulbs. Planting too early in mild climates allows too long a time for clove formation, and the plants may form a bush that looks more like a chive plant. In cold climates, early planting often results in too much top growth, which is susceptible to winter damage. Planting too late for your area, however, will give you a decreased number of long growing days in the early spring, resulting in small plants and small bulbs.
Soil Prep and Fertilization
Garlic is in the ground longer than most food crops, so preparing the soil adequately is key. A well-drained loam rich in organic matter is ideal. At Filaree Farm, Engeland composts manure directly in the field where he'll be planting. Soil that has been amended with either green or animal manures within six months won't need fertilization at planting time.
Figure on roughly 7-1/2 pounds of hardneck garlic per 100 feet of row, and five pounds of softneck. Separate the bulbs into cloves and plant only the large, healthy ones, setting them five to six inches apart, with 12 inches between rows. In trials at Cornell University in New York, planting at a depth of two to three inches (compared with one inch) greatly increased winter survival, especially when combined with several inches of straw mulch. The mulch also conserves moisture, which is critical during bulb formation, and helps control weeds.
Spring growth begins quite early for garlic. Many growers recommend fertilizing with nitrogen at this point. If your soil fertility is low and the plants look pale, foliar-feed every two weeks with fish emulsion and liquid kelp or side-dress with bloodmeal. But remember: Once green leaves stop growing in late spring, it's too late. Fertilizing at that point will delay bulbing and result in a lower-quality harvest.
Growers disagree as to whether you need to pop the "tops" of the hardnecks, that is, cut off the flower stalk so the plant diverts its energy into the below-ground bulb. Engeland notes that soil fertility, climate and the strain of garlic you're growing probably all play a role, and his recommendation is to experiment. "If you do remove the stalk, save the capsule and plant the bulbils inside 1/2-inch deep for a quick-growing crop of garlic greens."