In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Choose the largest garlic cloves to plant.
If you can't conceive of living without the richness of garlic, get ready -- it's garlic planting time!
Garlic is very hardy and not damaged by frosts or even light freezing, so fall-planted cloves will develop strong root systems before they finally shut down for the winter. And getting those root systems established now will give them a good start on developing big heads next spring.
Choose the largest cloves you can find, even if it means purchasing half a dozen heads to get only a dozen big cloves. If you appreciate garlic, but not its bite or hard-to-peel tiny cloves, elephant garlic is for you. It's not really garlic but it's related -- Allium scorodoprasum instead of A. sativum. Single cloves can measure 2 inches long and an inch across, and its flavor is mild with only a hint of garlic flavor. It can stand even colder temperatures than regular garlic.
"Heading up" or bulbing will occur next June or July, determined by day length. The larger the plant and the more leaves it has when this critical time is reached in the spring, the larger the new bulb will be. The more nutrition in the soil and the more days it has to grow, the bigger the head. So planting in the fall or early winter in rich soil will produce the largest cloves.
Planting in the spring, even with rich soil, will produce only medium- or small-sized cloves, or a single bulb without cloves. These immature bulbs can be used in place of a single large clove in recipes, or they can be left in the soil or stored and replanted the following fall, when they'll grow further and then mature into separate cloves.
Don't skimp on soil preparation. Garlic needs better growing conditions than other alliums. Into a raised bed, dig in lots of compost, manure, and a balanced fertilizer. Plant cloves 4 inches apart and 1 inch deep. The flat basal scar goes down, and the point goes up. Water the bed well, and keep the soil moist through next May. Mulch will help.
In June or July, when the bulbs start to mature, the green tops will turn yellow, droop, and fall over. This is your cue to stop watering and, a week later, knock down the remaining tops.
After another week, loosen the soil around the bulb roots, then pull or use a fork to lift them. Leave them outdoors in a dry, shady location for several more days. If they must remain in the sun, arrange them so the tops of some plants cover the bulbs of other plants to avoid sunburning.
The heads are sufficiently hardened off when their outer skins become papery. Trim off leaf stalks and roots close to the base, and hang in mesh bags in a dry area with good air circulation. Or trim only the roots and loosely braid leaf sheaths. Check monthly for mold or softening, and use these damaged heads first.
And remember to save the largest cloves for next year's planting!
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