Somehow it is always comforting, as the current growing season comes to an end, that the act of planting cloves of garlic marks the beginning of the next growing season. It’s an act of faith that the cloves will slowly grow roots over the winter, emerge next spring, and that we will again be here to tend and harvest. Tuesday was a lovely autumn day for planting. I removed the few weeds that had sprouted and added a layer of compost to each bed. Long-time readers will note that the potager’s plan will return to horizontal rows, rather than diagonals for next year. And notice how well the new “Hot Pak Orange” marigolds that edge the central path are still performing at this late date. In former years, the “Boy” series were already ragged and weary. Trays of cured hardneck garlic were carried from the Lady Cottage and the largest bulbs were selected of each variety, carefully pulled apart to keep the skin of each clove intact, and gently pushed into the loosened soil in measured rows. It’s a task that I find immensely gratifying, planting another generation of the garlic I’ve saved since the first year of the potager three years ago.
2018 was not a good year for alliums in our area of central Indiana. The onions grew large but are not “keeping” as well as normal. The shallots grew weirdly, some without dividing into separate bulbs, and many rotting long before the tops even thought about turning beige. Several of my carefully braided shallots have already spoiled. This has never happened in my gardening experience, which shows one can’t really determine an outcome even after forty-plus years of planting. No wonder first time, and second-time gardeners get discouraged! And, now the garlic is showing signs that it may not store well through the winter either. Many of the nice-looking bulbs actually have a spoiled clove or two, when the outer layers are peeled away. But, fortunately there are plenty of good cloves for planting, and hopefully 2019 will be a better year for the onion family.
The number of varieties has been reduced slightly, because now that I no longer do market, we don’t need as much. However, I like the vertical design element garlic adds to the potager’s design, and their strong stems are useful for supporting low-growing peas and beans. This year, three rows are going in the center of several beds, with room for the edging along central paths where required, and a row of something else on the opposite side. Spinach and lettuce work well, and both appreciate the shade of the tall garlic for part of the day. My very favorite garlics because of reliability in size and flavor are: “Mary Jane,” “Killarney Red,” and “Deerfield Purple.” I also planted some “Khobor,” “Romanian Red,” and “Rosewood.” Some years these last three perform extremely well, and sometimes (like this year) not as well, but when they do, they are excellent.
Of course, planting the garlic in fall requires that the basic planting plan for the 2019 season is already thoughtfully graphed. This autumn however, with the decent weather continuing longer than usual, some beds designated for garlic weren’t empty. Where crops still thrived, I skipped planting. Hopefully, once the beans have been harvested, the peas frozen, the lettuces picked and the beets pickled there will still be a nice day or two and the remainder of the garlic plan can be completed. It’s doubtful these old bones could have completed the project anyway. As it was, the muscles determined that Wednesday was a day of rest, which worked out well since it rained anyway!
Garlic is an easy crop to grow, relatively pest-free. It does require good drainage, full sun, and good soil. Side-dressing monthly with compost or manure tea will help it grow large bulbs since it is a heavy feeder. And, a light mulch to prevent weed competition is always appreciated. Hardneck garlic is best to grow in our area (Zone 5) and I prefer it in the kitchen as well. It grows a single row of large cloves around a central stem (picture the sections of an orange) rather than layers of small cloves (picture an artichoke.) It is generally planted in October and harvested in July.