Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's still not too late to plant garlic. It's really no different than planting other Fall bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

The planting/harvesting cycle is simple enough. You plant in the Fall, enjoy the scapes in June, and dig up the bulbs in mid to late July. If you cure the bulbs properly, they can then be stored for many months, some replanted in the Fall, and the rest enjoyed. There's virtually no work involved in between planting and harvesting. And not to skip ahead too far, but the area you dedicate for garlic today, will conveniently be ready for Fall planting of items like arugula and lettuce, in early August. (more will follow for all of those steps, as they occur next year)

Various seed catalogues offer many interesting varieties of garlic, usually for around $20/lbs. If you plan on creating a self-sustaining garlic harvest, you may want to make a one-time investment in a specific variety to harvest year-after-year. I personally just purchase healthy looking organic garlic bulbs at our Food Coop or Farmer's Market, usually for a fraction of the cost but still a local variety that wasn't shipped across the country. A variety grown in California may not be perfectly suited for Brooklyn. If you don't have such options, just buy something from the local supermarket that is fresh enough to cook with, and it should still do well. You should buy one or two bulbs per square foot you plan to plant. I over-estimated this year, so I ended up having to cook with more garlic.

Elephant garlic is another option and the same steps apply. This in fact is not a true garlic (allium sativum), but a variety of the leek species (allium ampeloprasum) that has a similar lifecycle as garlic. More will be written on this when we plant leeks next Spring, but in short... leeks are usually started by seed (indoors) and harvested the same season, while elephant garlic is in the ground for more than a season, starting with a single bulb, which divides just as does it's cousin, the true garlic.

Garlic prefers to be grown in loose, fertile soil in a sunny location. Keep the bulb intact until right before you plant. When you are ready to plant, break up the cloves just like you would when you're separating them to cook, but do not remove the paper-like skin from the individual cloves. Each clove should be planted four inches deep and five or six inches apart. For elephant garlic, plant six inches apart. I've had nearly 100% success, so there's no reason to double-up any cloves. Unlike when you plant tiny seeds, you can recognize if a garlic clove is good or bad.

So now we just need to be patient and look for the initial shoots in March.