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JoAnne Skelly: Plant garlic now

By JoAnne Skelly

Garlic is relatively easy to grow. September through the end of October is garlic planting time.

Garlic requires a loose sandy loam soil with good drainage and a pH of 6 to 7. The looser the soil, the bigger the bulb.

My friend Arnold Carbone of Glorious Garlic Farm recommends this soil mix particularly when growing in raised beds or containers: 1/3 top or potting soil; 1/3 bulky organic material, such as aged compost or manure; and 1/3 sand. Garlic needs a minimum of six hours of sun per day.

Plant only high-quality, disease-free seed garlic, because garlic is prone to diseases that can contaminate soil for years for it and other alliums such as onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Avoid planting garlic in the same place where you have grown other alliums for three years to avoid cross contamination. Garlic “seeds” are the individual cloves of the bulb rather than traditional seeds.

Dig a furrow, amend with compost and a sprinkle of bone meal (phosphorus). Place the cloves pointy end up four to five inches deep and five inches apart from each other. Rows should be 10 inches apart. Fifteen cloves per square yard is a good rule of thumb according to Arnold.

There is no need to strip the paper skin. Cover with more soil blended with compost, and put three inches to four inches of mulch on top. Put netting on top of the mulch to hold it in place in the wind. The mulch will reduce soil heaving due to frost.

Water thoroughly at planting and again through the fall and winter only when the soil is dry. Do not overwater because garlic rots easily. Raised beds and containers may dry out more readily than in-ground plantings. Fall planting allows roots to develop slowly over winter for strong hardy spring growth. Garlic emerges in March to April.

Feed garlic plants twice in the spring with liquid kelp or fish emulsion. “Garlic doesn’t like company” (Carbone), so keep weeds and other plants away. Cut any flower stalks that appear and use them in cooking. Otherwise, the garlic will go to seed and the crop of bulbs will be tiny. Stop watering when the tops fall over (mature). Excess water as the crop matures causes bulb splitting, delays curing and may cause storage problems.

Start harvesting when the fallen garlic tops begin to yellow. Use a spade or garden fork to lift the bulbs from the earth. Store excess garlic by drying.