Can You Plant Garlic Cloves If Papery Cover is off?

Here’s a good question:

“What do you do about the cloves where the paper skin comes off as you are separating them? This can easily happen when pulling apart a head of garlic. Part or most of the paper wrapper will separate from the clove. Can you still plant these?

The short answer is no. Garlic bulbs naturally shrink as they cure, and then shrink more in storage. This is the natural course of things, because dormancy lasts only so long, and the cloves must get busy changing into new plants. This natural shrinkage makes garlic cloves easier to peel, but naked cloves are not what you want in your garden. The wrapper/skins contain chemical compounds that do various things – inhibit the emergence of a sprout until roots have formed, deter invasive microbes, and probably leach “come hither” signals to appropriate strains of garlic-friendly bacteria.

Cloves that enter the world of soil need to be wearing their full armor. If you have more naked cloves than you can use, dry them and make small batches of delicious garlic powder, or slice and pickle them just like other quick pickles.

To prepare garlic powder, follow these simple steps:

First, peel the garlic cloves. Then cut them into thin slices and put in a dry pan. Place the pan in a 150-degree oven to dry the garlic, turning the slices often. Grind the dried slices in a blender, (a friend of mine uses a coffee grinder) then sift the material through a strainer to separate the chunks from the finer powder. (The chunks taste great on pizza!)

Use your homemade garlic powder on any food that can benefit from a concentrated shot of garlic flavor. Store the chunks or garlic powder in airtight jars kept in a cool place, or freeze for long-term storage.

Gateway Beds Down for the Winter

What a team! Irene Moore and Viera Oszlak.

What a team! Irene Moore and Viera Oszlak.

Great autumn weather made last Saturday’s garden clean-up a pleasant afternoon for all. Teams of gardeners removed dead flower stalks from the Lowndes Ave. front garden. Others, like me, pulled out the last of their vegetable plants–but I got an unexpected bonus: Swiss chard and a pound of carrots that I planted late in the season, and some more green tomatoes!

I covered my bed with straw, including some spinach that just sprouted recently. I’m hoping that next Spring I’ll pull back the straw and find enough spinach for our first salads.

Thank you to all the gardeners who turned out to keep Gateway beautiful!

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.


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







STRAW: The Best Winter Blanket for your Garden

From Barbara Wildfeir, Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener

The chilly nights are telling us it’s almost time to put our gardens to bed. And, if we’re smart and use straw, we can leave them clear and neat and ready to plant in the Spring.

Here’s why I recommend straw:

It’s cheap: a half bale is enough to cover the 5×20 garden beds at Gateway with several inches. All seeds—and that includes weed seeds–need light, moisture, and the correct temperature to germinate. As with vegetables, there are cool weather (eg., chickweed) and warm weather (eg.,crabgrass) weeds. The straw eliminates the light needed for germination.

It’s easy: straw is light in weight, and you can pick it up and move it around as needed.

It’s reusable: come spring when you plant, you can push it aside or store it somewhere temporarily. Then you can put it around your seedlings as they grow to keep the soil moist and cooler than the air,  and stop most weeds from germinating all summer!

That means you can cut your weeding time dramatically and avoid spreading weed seeds everywhere.

Remember, it’s straw you want, not hay, which contains lots of weed seeds.