Garlic: So Easy, So Rewarding

Garlic photoIT WAS HARD for me to believe how easy it is to grow garlic! And ever since I saw and tasted how much better it is than store-bought–oily and aromatic, I keep planting more every year. It requires so little tending, that anyone can do it. All you need is a sunny spot.

GARLIC IS PLANTED IN THE FALL, LIKE A TULIP BULB ! THINK MID-OCTOBER TO EARLY NOVEMBER; BEST AFTER THE FIRST FROST BUT BEFORE THE GROUND GETS HARD.

STEP 1: Get a head of organic garlic to use as seed either in a store or farmers’ market. Non-organic may work but if from China, it could have been sprayed with a chemical to retard growth; there’s no way to know for sure.

STEP 2: Find a sunny spot where water doesn’t pool and dig the earth so it’s loose (of course, every bed at Gateway Community Garden fits that description!).

STEP 3: Separate the head of garlic into the individual cloves (leave the papery cover intact). Each clove becomes a whole head of garlic! Plant the clove with the pointy side up and the flat side down.

STEP 4: Plant each clove 2 to 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart from the others. Fill in the hole and pat it down. Mark the spot so you don’t forget where they are. Cover it with wood chips, straw or other mulch to keep the weeds down.

STEP 5: Water it. Go inside and dream about the garlic you will harvest NEXT JULY!

That’s right! Leave it through the winter. If late fall is warm, you may see green tips come up. Not to worry. In spring the leaves will really grow. Water it regularly like your other plants.

STEP 6: In June, the leaves will be tall and straight, but a curly “scape,” a flower stalk, will grow. Cut that off and chop it for use in eggs, stews, stir fries, to add a garlicky flavor. It freezes well. Stores charge as much as $1/scape!

STEP 7: When the leaves start turning brown, stop watering .

STEP 8: When most of the leaves are brown, it’s time to HARVEST! Don’t pull! Use a small shovel or fork to lift them out of the ground. Brush off the dirt, leave the roots and tops. Lay them in a single layer in a shaded, ventilated place for 2-3 weeks until they feel dry. Cut off the tops and store where air can circulate, eg., a mesh bag.

STEP 9: Eat and enjoy!

Use Straw To Cover Gardens for Winter

The chill in the air says it’s almost time to put our gardens to bed. One of the best ways to do that is to use straw. I recommend straw because it’s inexpensive, easy to use and move around, and reusable at least for one year.

A half bale will cover the typical bed at Gateway Garden (5×20′) several inches deep. After removing dead plant material, you just layer on the straw and walk away until Spring. The soil underneath will stay soft and protected from splashing by heavy rain, and, if you have left a cool weather vegetable like spinach sprouting in the bed, it will have protection from the worst cold and is more likely to survive the winter. Just like that, spinach green and growing when you uncover your bed!

Until you do uncover the soil, however, no weeds will sprout. Weeds, like vegetables, need light, moisture, and the correct temperature to germinate. . The straw eliminates the light needed for germination.

So, push the straw aside to make space, or easily pick it up and store it somewhere temporarily. Plant as you would usually, not on top of the straw.  Immediately surround seedlings with straw, and your sprouted seeds as soon as possible. The straw will keep the soil from drying out so quickly, so less watering needed, and will stop most weeds from germinating during the growing season.

That means you can cut your weeding time dramatically and avoid spreading weed seeds all over the rest of your garden.

Barbara Wildfeir, Cornell Cooperate Master Gardener