Thursday, September 17, 2009

Almost time to plant garlic!

Dear Gardeners:

I have two items of interest. The following is from Nancy DuBrule-Clemente's Natureworks email newsletter of 9/16/09:

" We just got in our certified organic hard neck seed garlic. Did you know that the time to plant garlic is in the fall, along with all the other bulbs? Each garlic clove forms a head. Last year, I planted an entire raised bed of garlic and have harvested 150 heads! It is essentially pest free and the easist crop I've ever grown. This week's Saturday morning walk is a tomato tasting and general discussion of how your food garden grew in the summer of 2009. For anyone new to growing food, take heart. This was perhaps the most challenging year we've ever encountered!"

So, this snippet from the Natureworks newsletter brings up two points. One is that we are approaching the time of year to plant garlic. I generally end up planting my garlic in mid to late October (fertilizing and adding compost to the soil first), then covering the bed with about 3"-4" of chopped up leaves. In the spring (early April or so?--really depends on the weather), I watch for signs of the garlic stalk pushing out of the mulch. Sometimes I need to move the mulch around a little bit to help the stalks out. Generally hard neck garlic (produces garlic scapes--LaBella's had them for sale this year--chop the scape and use like garlic or onion in dishes) is ready to harvest in early to mid July, whereas softneck garlic (the kind of garlic you might see braided) is ready late June to early July. After harvesting the garlic in the summer, that bed is then ready to grow fall plantings of crops.

To plant garlic, break a head of garlic into the individual cloves, then stick the cloves (root side down) about 2" down in the soil. I space the cloves about 4"-5" apart. Some of you might ask, can I use grocery store bought garlic to plant? My reply to that is that the party line is to use "seed garlic"--garlic heads that are specifically sold for the purpose of planting, such as are available at Natureworks (see above) and probably other garden centers in the area (call around). I've read (but have no personal experience to confirm or disprove) that grocery store garlic has sometimes been sprayed with a chemical to inhibit sprouting/growth. Since inhibition of garlic growth would not be a good thing when you are trying to grow garlic, that's one possible reason to avoid planting grocery store garlic. Seed garlic may seem expensive when initially purchased ( remember though that each clove in the garlic head will form an entirely new head of garlic in your garden!), but I have been saving heads of garlic every year from my harvest (I keep the biggest ones) for planting in the fall. So, after the initial purchase, you may never need to buy seed garlic again--keep using a few of your own heads each year for planting in the fall.

The other point brought up by Nancy's article is her comment that this past summer may have been one of the most challenging ever for vegetable growing. I agree--I've never seen a year that was so tough--cold and wet in June/July, then dry in August, late blight on tomatoes and potatoes, downy mildews that came early and probably the biggest crop of spotted cucumber beetles (look like overgrown yellow ladybugs that eat holes in cucumber and squash plant leaves--they spread disease too) that I can ever remember seeing now. So yes, it was a tough growing year. The take home message is, don't be too discouraged. Each growing year will have its ups and downs and that's why it's important to plant a diversity of crops. Some will do well in any given year, other's won't--it's all up to the weather.

My final item of interest is below. My husband noticed that the front cover of a recent issue (17 September 2009)of Nature (journal of general scientific interest) features the gene sequencing of the potato late blight. The research was probably started several years ago (the technique used for the sequencing is time consuming), so it's not as if the work was done as a consequence of this summer's late blight fiasco. As you can see, diseases such as late blight are very much so of interest to the scientific community. Making the front cover of Nature is a "feather in your cap" as a scientist, because it means that your work was of importance and of interest to the scientific community as a whole.

Hmm, the cover picture did not get carried over into the blog--darn--suffice it to say, there was a picture of a blighted potato on the front cover of the journal. You can see it at

Yours in gardening, Malaine