Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Planting Garlic

The community gardens have been stripped, cultivated and restaked.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I'm relieved that the work is done.  Going to the garden and processing mounds of veggies is one less chore on a long list of things to do. On the other hand, I'm sad that I no longer have the opportunity to lose myself in digging in the dirt and experimenting with gorgeous fresh veggies.  For the next seven months, I shall have to be content with store bought veggies and our own dried, frozen and canned produce.

But there is one last task to do in the garden - plant garlic.  To get nice big garlic heads, it is recommended that garlic be planted in the fall. The exact timing is tricky.  You want your newly planted garlic to grow some roots, but you don't want it to sprout.  Early to mid-October is probably best time here in the prairies - although you never know for sure when working with Mother Nature.

Planting garlic is fairly straight forward - here's what we do:
  1. We use the garlic heads that we grew during the summer, but you can buy garlic at any garden centre.  I would not, however, use the garlic you buy at the grocery store - unless you're buying locally grown garlic.  It is best to stick to varieties that are local and are accustomed to our climate.   Can you imagine how a garlic grown in California would feel during our prairie winters!  
  2. Separate the garlic heads into the separate cloves ( known as "cracking the bulb").  It's not necessary to remove all the papery layers, but it is important not to damage the cloves, especially the bottom or "basal plate" - the part where the roots will develop from.
  3. Choose the biggest, plumpest, nicest cloves to plant.  The bigger the clove, the bigger next year's bulb will be.  Save the small ones for dinner.
  4. Plant the cloves with the point sticking up towards the sun and the basal plate side towards the soil.
  5. Plant 2 inches deep and leave about 3-4 inches between each clove.  This always looks like a lot of space to me, but remember, it has to have room to grow and it will be using the nutrients and water around it.
  6. Cover with soil.
  7. Cover with a mulch like straw or leaves that will add an extra layer of insulation throughout the winter.  Usually, a deep layer of snow will provide sufficient insulation, but if there isn't enough snow cover, your garlic may not survive the extreme cold.  
  8. Watch for sprouts early next spring.  You and the cut worms will be so happy to see the first sign of green!
point up, 2 inches deep 3-4 inches apart
old corn stalks mark the garlic for next spring

An insulating layer of leaves

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