Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Growing Great Garlic

Growing Great Garlic is the title of a book I keep by my bed. Maybe it keeps the vampires away if I haven’t had my daily dose of garlic. It’s a great book but you probably don’t need to buy it. Garlic is real easy to grow and Penn State has a nice pamphlet on growing bulb crops such as onion, leek and garlic that tells you what you need to know… unless you are planning to go into the garlic business or become so enthused about garlic that you just need more information. Then you may want the book.

Garlic is on my mind now because as we approach the 4th of July I know that garlic harvest time is near. Usually by the 4th the leaves on the bottom half of the plants have died and turned brown. This is a sign that the bulb is near optimum maturity. Harvested too soon, the cloves are not well defined and full-sized. Harvested too late and the cloves separate…quality and storage life decline.

Ok, I’m about to harvest but how did I get to this point? Garlic is planted in the fall, so late last October individual cloves were planted about an inch and a half deep in good, rich garden soil. Bum some garlic from a friend or order from a source in the northeastern United States. Do not plant store-bought garlic. Maybe you can find some at a local farmers market that was locally grown (and thus well adapted to our region).

I plant my garlic in raised beds, about six inches apart in both directions. Be sure to add plenty of soil nutrients before planting.. I’d suggest a Penn State soil test to determine nutrient needs. Garlic is a “heavy feeder” as they say. Poor soils do not make great garlic.
A few leaves emerge in late fall. Add some weed free straw as a winter mulch when the ground freezes hard and you are set until spring.

There’s not much to do between spring and harvest. Just pull the odd weed that gets thru the mulch and give them a shot of nitrogen in April. Organic folks can use dried blood (extra vampire deterrent) as an N source. Others can use nitrate of soda or urea.
There is nothing like the taste of fresh garlic... and home grown is especially satisfying. You can start looking for locally harvest garlic in July. Get it while you can. Eat some and save some for planting in October. Then you'll be "off the grid"... garlic-wise.

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