September is upon us and that means it is time to begin working and/or seeding for winter’s edible bounty. I have written in the past on various leafy greens and root crops that prefer to grow during cool weather. Garlic, though not actually “bounty” until next spring performs best when planted in the fall….anytime from September to November, depending on your location.
A member of the onion family, Allium sativum grows below ground and prefers a rich, friable (crumbly) soil. Individual cloves are the seed and contain everything necessary to begin developing a new head of garlic. Keep in mind that just as there are different types of tomatoes, there are different varieties of garlic. Pungency, clove size, ease of peeling and storage life are some of the traits gardeners and cooks consider when choosing cloves to plant.
All successful harvests (apart from dumb luck) depend on preparation and timing and this week is the perfect time to insure the prettiest and tastiest garlic on the block. Begin by digging organic matter into heavy clay or sandy soils to loosen it up; cotton bur compost will work fine. Being a heavy feeder, garlic size depends on adequate food being in the soil before winter’s cold sets in. Add well rotted manure into the area to be planted, in the absence of manure a combination of blood meal and bone meal will provide the necessary nutrients.
Ideally the garlic would like to sprout its green top and develop a few roots before the ground freezes. If a gardener in Northern Oklahoma amends the planting area in early September, garlic can be planted in three or four weeks. Push garlic sets or cloves, roots side down, into the soil 1-2” deep; lightly mulch with straw to help protect the bulbs from winter’s cold. Although the green top may succumb during the hardest freezing weather, the tops will resprout when the weather warms. Seven to ten days of temperatures below -10°F may actually kill the seed, but that would be a problem for states to our north.
As Spring’s air warms, supply regular moisture without making the soil soggy. Weekly applications of seaweed or liquid fish may also increase bulb size. Harvest comes in May or June; when tops begin to brown, decrease the water, withholding all water for the last two weeks. Excess moisture in the garlic heads at dig out will increase chances of the cloves rotting during storage.
This week, simply prepare the planting area.
LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct any questions to her, especially about tree selection, by emailing email@example.com.