Today was garlic planting day here at Happy Acres, and I got all the main crop 2017 garlic planted – 184 plants total. I will plant a bit more for green garlic later on in another spot. Last year I planted the garlic on 11/11, so I’m pretty much right on schedule. I’ve planted the main crop at slightly different times over the years, ranging from mid October to early November. That’s in line with the planting times for local growers, and it seems to work well for me. Our ground rarely freezes up until late December or early January, if then. While I was it I planted a couple dozen shallots (Conservor and Dutch Yellow) and two dozen of the Yellow Potato Onions (a multiplier type) since I had a bit of room left in the bed.
I’m growing the garlic in the bed where sweet potatoes grew earlier, since that bed is empty and available. I’ve been using that rotation for a few years now and it seems to work quite well. The soil is still fairly loose after digging the sweet potatoes, and it’s easy to get it ready for the garlic. I did not amend the soil or add any fertilizer before planting the sweet potatoes, so I did that a week ago. I added about three bushels of compost plus fertilizer and amendments as indicated by a soil test from earlier this year. I will top dress with a bit more fertilizer in spring, and also water the bed with liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer a couple of times. If I’ve learned anything about growing garlic, it’s that it is a fairly heavy feeder.
After a few years of experimenting, I’ve settled on planting my garlic in a six inch by eight inch grid pattern. This gives each plant 48 square inches of growing space. Closer spacing usually results in smaller bulbs but might give a greater overall yield, and giving the plants more room can result in larger bulbs. This spacing works well for me, and I’m happy with the size of the bulbs I harvest and with the total haul. Every gardener needs to experiment and see what works best in their own garden.
I select the planting stock using the biggest cloves from the biggest bulbs, avoiding any with any signs of disease or rot. The bulb in the above photo is Red Toch, an artichoke type that has done very well for me the last two years and is one of author and garlic grower Chester Aaron’s favorite cultivars. Mother Earth News has an informative article that discusses bulb selection and other planting and growing issues. And I also learned a lot by reading The Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith and Garlic Is Life by Chester Aaron.
I wait until planting day to separate the cloves from the bulbs, a process known as ‘cracking’ the bulbs. I don’t soak the bulbs before planting, and I try and keep the skins intact. I’m trying a couple of new varieties this year, including the turban Early Portuguese and the silverskin Sicilian Silver.
After amending the soil I rake it down to get it smooth and flat. I use a planting jig to mark the planting holes in the bed. When I press it down into the loose soil, it leaves holes behind as a guide to planting the garlic. It really helps me speed up the planting process, and the uniform spacing makes it easier for me to weed later on.
The jig marks four rows running down the length of the bed. I plant the individual cloves pointed side up about two to three inches deep, using a narrow trowel (Wilcox Mini Trowel #51) to widen the planting hole. Those in colder areas may want to plant theirs a little deeper. The process goes pretty quickly using the jig, and I can plant a couple hundred or so cloves in just over an hour. It would go even quicker if I didn’t plant so many different kinds. I mark each of the varieties with a label indicating how many I plant, and I also have a map in computer form (nothing fancy, just a Word document) with the planting order listed, since the labels have a tendency to heave up out of the ground over the winter.
I’ll come back in a few weeks or so and mulch the bed with some straw. I also want to get the green garlic plus a few more shallots and multiplier onions planted soon in the kitchen garden area. You can read more about my garlic planting methods in this post: 2015 Garlic Planting. For more information on growing garlic, and on how I made my planting jig, check out these related posts:
- Growing Green Garlic
- How To Have Fresh Garlic All Year Long
- 2014 Garlic Planting
- 2013 Garlic Planting
- Homemade Garlic Planting Jig
No garlic again for me this year, the chance of a rust infection is still too high. Funny, I didn’t even think about it this year, not even when I picked up a few heads of garlic at the farmer’s market last week. I did feel a pang of regret though when I was checking what seeds I was sowing at this time last year and realized it would be time to sow onion seeds if I was willing to face downy mildew again. I do feel some resentment about buying some anonymous unnamed generic garlic and the same goes for onions once my stash of runty bulbs is finished.
Just got my garlic in the ground two days ago – a little late from ideal, but I was this late last year and it worked out ok. For me, I’ve gone with much closer spacing (5″ between bulbs and rows) as I do enjoy a variety of garlic but only have one 8×4 bed to allocate to it. I’m not getting huge bulbs (although they are getting a bit better each year), but as you say, the overall yield is pretty good and it easily gets me through until the next harvest, which is what’s most important.