The season is changing and the warm summer crops are withering along the streets of the neighborhood. Enjoy the last of those tomatoes… but believe it or not, there is still one more crop you can get in the ground that will thrive in our mild winter with very little assistance. That fabulous crop is… garlic!
Garlic doesn’t take up a lot of space or require a lot of attention. Plant it before Halloween and it will be ready to harvest around the Fourth of July. Once it is in the ground it is really a “set it and forget it” kind of crop.
There are two kinds of garlic to grow, either soft neck or hard neck varieties. Soft neck garlic is what most of us are used to eating. It develops a long, flexible green stem that can be braided after the harvest. Hard neck garlic grows with a firm stalk through the center that coils at the top when it matures.
When choosing garlic, don’t just pick up a head at the grocery store to plant as it may have been treated to prevent sprouting. You will need to purchase seed garlic to ensure success. Plant each clove of garlic in the ground 1-2 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart with the tip of the clove pointing upward. Plants should get a few inches tall before the winter solstice arrives and those short shoots will patiently wait for the sun to arrive in the spring. As they start to grow, they require very little help, maybe a little dose of fertilizer in March or April.
You will know when your garlic is ready to harvest when the green stalks start to die back and turn yellow. If you grow hard neck garlic be sure to cut off those coils (also known as garlic scapes—a tender green with mild onion flavor) as they are delicious to eat either sauteed or grilled before the garlic bulbs are ready to harvest.
Growing garlic around the perimeter of the garden or towards the back row of a small area allows you to fill in other plants in the spring while the garlic is still reaching full growth. Garlic also can act as a deterrent to other pests which makes it an ideal companion for lettuce and strawberries.
The Tilth Alliance in Wallingford offers this short checklist that will get you started: Homegrown Vampire Protection. Happy garlic growing!