It’s that time! There’s a nip in the air, a skip in your step (thanks to school starting back), and you can now buy premium unleaded gas in pumpkin spice flavor. Juuuuuuust kidding. Almost. But you know and I know that fall is here, and it’s time to switch gears in the garden. There go the days of planting your beloved veggies, worrying over every bug and black spot. Instead you can plant Ron Popeil set-it-and-forget-it style with a variety of fall crops, especially my true beloved, garlic.
Garlic is a shamefully easy crop that should grace every kitchen garden. It’s pest-less, disease-less, and is known to repel many garden bugs as well as the occasional Undead. (Note: science fiction writers disagree as to the extent of garlic’s Vampire-repellent capabilities. Please do your own research and educate yourself thoroughly on the subject.)
My favorite garlic tip is to hit up your local fall garlic festival or farmer’s market to get fresh organic stuff to plant, as well as to find out what varieties grow best in your area. In my neck of the northwest NJ woods, hardneck varieties prevail. Softneck garlic prefers milder winters, and the farmer’s in my area don’t bother with them. I don’t have a particular variety I prefer, but usually get a mix of varieties for fun. If you don’t have a local reference, start looking now at plant catalogs to order yours in time for planting. It’s possible to plant grocery store garlic, although they are often chemically treated to retard sprouting – not an ideal trait in something you are trying to grow.
Plant your garlic any time before the ground freezes, but later is better. Unseasonably warm temps can cause garlic to grow above ground before next year, which drains the energy and health of the plant when the hard freeze comes. I plant in November in the loose rich soil of my raised beds, and add compost for these heavy feeders. Mulching with shredded leaves should be done after the ground freezes.
Split the individual cloves from the garlic head and plant each one 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart with the pointy end up. (Note: the “pointy end up” part matters. My Polish Grandfather told me about the year he planted the garlic pointy end down and, guess what? It didn’t grow! Rest in peace, Grandpa Petrosky. I will forever miss your hilarious stories.) Garlic will sprout in the spring along with your other bulbs and be ready to harvest in early summer. Keep weeded, watered, and add more compost for kicks. To harvest, gently pull plants after the first few bottom leaves turn brown, and allow to cure for a few days in a covered area with good airflow. Then braid or hang by the stalk for the duration. Our 4x12 bed yields enough for almost a whole year.
Prior to harvest, hardneck garlic will produce a bonus crop. In May, garlic sends up a hard shoot which, if left untended, will produce a flower and then bulbils (seeds, basically). This stalk is known as the scape, and until a few years ago, it’s only job was to get chopped off to prevent the growing clove from wasting its energy on flower production. Now, it’s an expensive gourmet treat. The mild garlic flavor in the soft part of the scape is useful as a general flavoring for eggs, soup, meat dishes, pesto, and really any other place you personally welcome garlic. We tend to keep it in the fridge and add it to dishes during cooking, or puree it with olive oil and freeze it in ice cube trays for easy portioning.
I’ll leave you with a garlic scape recipe or two in case you're terribly interested. It might not be useful now, but it just might convince you to do some shopping at Easton PA’s garlic fest on October 1st and 2nd. Enjoy!
I am Laura; lover of plants, fan of words, drinker of wine, practitioner of yoga, planner of schemes, and conductor of the family crazy train, Check here for gardening fun, harvest recipes, yoga philosophy, and whatever else I love to write about.