A Fall Hope
I’ve written several times proclaiming my appreciation for fall and fall gardening. Garlic is one of the reasons. Not that I have any experience growing it, but it is a fall-planted crop and I am getting ready to plant several varieties. I actually planted garlic once several years ago, and met with disaster due to my own ignorance, and unreasonable expectations. Since then, I have actually taken the time to do a little research on growing garlic, and this year I have taken up the challenge again.
Getting To Know Garlic
When I started learning how to grow garlic, the first thing that struck me was that it is a fall planted crop. Interestingly, my local independent garden center chain (for which I worked at the time, and from whom I bought my previous seed), always sold garlic in the Spring. Lesson learned: the “experts” don’t know everything. They have since begun selling seed garlic in fall.
Another interesting thing is that growing garlic in Georgia is rumored to be a challenge in the first place. Although I have long been aware that there are day-length requirements for growing onions, for some reason it never entered my mind that garlic may have similar requirements. In fact, garlic is sensitive not only to day length, but also temperature. So, our shorter day lengths combined with cool winters and warm springs make growing garlic a difficult (but not unmanageable) proposition.
Successfully Growing Garlic
Any species of plant on the market will be available in several varieties that carry slightly different genetic traits. When purchasing seed, make sure you choose varieties that are the best for your climate. Understanding that garlic can be temperamental in my area, it was important to get multiple recommendations from trusted sources including the seed supplier. I chose four different varieties based on those recommendations. What I received in the mail is garlic bulbs. I will divide the bulbs to plant the cloves individually, so that (hopefully) each clove will be a whole bulb next summer.
A sunny location with fertile, well drained soil is what garlic needs. The quicker it roots in and gets growing, the better the chance of success. I will plant it among established spinach, bok choy, Swiss chard and mizuna. These leafy greens have received lots of compost and a bit of supplemental fertilizer to keep the leafy growth in production. That is exactly what the garlic will need early on. By late April, the amount of leafy growth on each garlic plant determines the number of cloves it will have.
Even though the garden beds have recently been mulched, I will freshen up that mulch in spring to try and keep the soil cool as long as possible. Once the days start getting longer, it is important to keep the soil from heating too quickly. It seems that the day length “turns on” clove growth and hot weather turns it off. When soil temperature gets into the mid to upper eighties clove growth stops and the tops begin to die back. When most of the leaves have turned yellow, it’s time to harvest garlic. Then I will be able to separate the best to create my own seed stock for next fall…Wish me luck.