Monday was a warm and sunny day here, and I took advantage of the great weather to get the 2014 garlic planted. The forecast was calling for rain Tuesday, so it was a good time to get it in the ground while I could work the soil. Last year I got it planted on 10/29, so I am not running that far behind this year. And according to a recent article in our local newspaper, garlic grower Wendy Wilson in Mt Vernon, IN says they plant their crop from the third week in October through the second week in November. That means local folks still have time to get theirs planted, though the rain yesterday will complicate that for sure.
This year I’m growing garlic in the bed where sweet potatoes grew earlier, a rotation I used last year which seemed to work out fine. It’s right next to where the tomatoes grew, and they still need to be cleaned up. Getting the garlic planted was definitely a higher priority for me right now though. I prepped the bed by spreading a good amount of compost first, then adding organic fertilizer (a mix of Espoma Garden-Tone and Tomato-Tone) at a rate of 3 lbs/50 square feet. I will add additional fertilizer to the bed early next spring. I mixed the fertilizer and compost into the soil using my Mantis tiller, then raked it out smooth. I ran a length of twine down the bed to help me keep the bed running straight.
The next chore was to get the planting stock ready. To keep them from drying out, I never ‘crack’ the heads open until right before planting. Since I plant quite a few different varieties, I put the cloves in a bowl with a plastic marker so I can keep them all straight. And I have a map in computer form (a simple Word document) with the planting order listed, since the labels have a tendency to heave up out of the ground over the winter. Let me just say that Dave always tries to have a backup plan! I also like to document what I plant each year for later reference.
After a few years of experimenting, and after reading The Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith, I have settled on planting my garlic in a six inch by eight inch grid pattern. This gives each plant 48 square inches of growing space. In researching the book, the author interviewed quite a few garlic farmers to get their ideas on planting density. He found there is no norm at all, and wound up planting his own garlic in a wide row bed that gives them 60 square inches/plant. It is safe to say that he found that closer planting may result in greater overall yields, but at the expense of the size of the individual bulbs. So every gardener has to do their own testing to see what works best for their needs.
Last year I made a garlic planting jig to speed up the planting process. It has dowels glued into a piece of plywood in the six inch by eight inch pattern. I press it down into the soft soil, and use the holes it leaves behind as a guide to planting the garlic.
I plant the individual cloves pointed side up about two to three inches deep. That is deep enough for our typical winters, but those in colder climates may need to plant theirs a little deeper. I use a narrow bladed trowel (one of my trusty Wilcox collection) to dig the planting hole, then I push in the garlic cloves and cover with soil. The process goes pretty quickly using the jig as a planting aid, much quicker than when I had to mark out the spacing by hand. I planted 204 cloves of garlic in a little over an hour. I’ll come back in a month or so and mulch the bed with some straw.
For more information on growing garlic, check out these related posts: