OCTOBER and NOVEMBER are the perfect months to start one of the easiest of all vegetables:GARLIC!
This is a beginner's step-by-step to growing garlic. There is much more to this amazing herb than what you will find here and I encourage you to continue learning.
I've included some resources at the end.
(Just a note: I am a lazy – and cheap - gardener. I refuse to do more work than is absolutely necessary and am often experimenting with techniques to make gardening less work and more pleasure. There is a lot of modern folklore out there and folks are always wanting to sell you stuff. Do you really need it? Probably not.)
PREPARE YOUR GARDEN BED.
Our clay soil is too heavy/hard for bulb development, so it simply has to be amended. You'll want to either water well or wait for a rain so that digging doesn't have to involve a pickaxe.
Don’t forget about the beauty of raised beds. They’re a bit more expensive to build, but so worth it in the long run!
Dig one shovel-depth deep, loosening the clay and aerating it.
Add prodigious amounts of organic compost (buy it if you aren't making it, or do both as I had to do). Composted chicken manure is excellent. You can buy bags at any hardware store. I also added a bag of sand this year to further increase drainage.
Dig and blend this into your loosened soil. When finished, you should be able to push your finger into it with no effort. The bed will be mounded slightly – this is a good thing.
HINT: I buried a soaker hose approximately six inches deep into the bed.
NOTE: NEVER NEVER NEVER step on your prepared bed.
Did I say NEVER?
GET YOUR SEED GARLIC.
There are MANY types of garlic out there...hardneck, softneck, heirloom...it’s a wonderful world full of so many different qualities and flavors. BUT, we're talking cheap and easy, right?
Go to Whole Foods and buy a few heads of their ORGANIC garlic. Choose nice, firm, unblemished heads with large cloves. (Each clove will produce a head. The larger the clove, the larger the head.)
Gently separate the cloves, keeping as much paper intact as possible. Don't bother with the small cloves – eat them instead.
PLANT YOUR GARLIC.
Bury each clove, pointy side up, 4 inches below your beautifully prepared bed. I literally push the clove down with my finger, making sure the clove remains pointy side up. Tamp down the soil gently and water thoroughly.
Cloves should be planted approximately 4-6 inches apart. Don't plant in a row – they just need to be 4-6 inches apart from each other in all directions. A staggered pattern is perfect.
Save your leaves and run over them with the lawnmower to chop them up! They are excellent mulch. Or you can buy bales of STRAW (not hay!) to use as mulch, and I’ve recently discovered the awesomeness of soil conditioner (composted pine bark). Place this thickly over your planted bed to keep out weeds and keep moisture in and the soil cool.
If the garlic starts to grow before the freeze, don't worry. It will be just fine. The leaves may die back, but it will regrow.
SIT BACK AND WAIT UNTIL SPRING...
After the last frost, gently pull the mulch back from your bed. Fertilize with organic fertilizer (Fish Emulsion stinks but it can't be beat!), keep mulched around each garlic plant to prevent weeds, and water regularly.
If you have hard-neck garlic, it will grow flower stalks called “scapes”. These must be cut off before they flower, but dont' throw them away! They are absolutely delicious sauteed or grilled. If you have soft-neck garlic, you won't get scapes.
EARLY-MID SUMMER = HARVEST!
Around early/mid-summer you'll find that your garlic plants are turning brown. When they are approximately 2/3 brown, it is time to dig them out.
DIG, DON'T PULL! Gently dig the heads out and lay them in the sunshine to dry for a day.
Bunch the garlic loosely by the dried leaves and hang them in a well ventilated place to “cure”. They can be eaten before curing, but they won't store.
Really, that's it! Of course, there are always a million variables...the weather, weeds, soil condition, garlic variety, watering schedules...so your mileage may vary. Expect a variety in your harvest – you'd be amazed at how much food farmers throw away because it doesn't look like what the grocery store shopper expects. It will still taste great.
Seed Savers Exchange:
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: http://www.southernexposure.com/
Seeds of Change:
Mother Earth News:
(search “Garlic” for more info than you would ever need)