My husband and I went to the Mother Earth News festival this year in Seven Springs, PA. I went with a few goals. First, was to expand my garlic collection. I also wanted to be able to listen to some of the presentations. So, I was officially able to complete this simple list.
For the past seven years that we have lived at our current house, I have grown one type of garlic that originally was bought from a local farmer's market as eating garlic. I thought that since it grew locally, it would grow in my garden, and I was right. But last year was hard on garlic and I only got about 3 heads that were good for planting (where I usually plant about 10-15 heads...we really love garlic here.) I also got about a dozen that were more of a culinary quality, seeing as they were not quite as large or beautiful. I found a stand at the fair from a garlic farm that is about an hour's drive from our home. They carried about 20 varieties of garlic. While it was a little pricey, as seed garlic tends to be, it was beautiful looking garlic and they carried many difficult to find varieties. I made a point to ask the grower what his favorite variety was and got that. I also asked what the spiciest one was and got that.
I also asked one more question. What did I do wrong that my garlic was abysmal last year. They told me it wasn't my fault, that last year was a very bad garlic growing year since it was so wet. They had a bad year and only grew about half of what they did other years and had complete crop failures for some of their varieties, only having enough for seed for this year.
So today was the typical fall planting day for garlic. It all starts with well rotted compost full of chicken manure, leaves, and spring cleanup. I lay down about 3 inches over the entire bed and then hoed it in so the soil was nice and loose and full of fertility. Next I used my handy dandy stick to dig holes 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep. I plant each variety in a block and labeled them using some lovely copper markers I got at a yard sale for 25 cents for a 5 pack. Each large clove was taken from the head and planted roots down, pointy shoots up.
When all of them are planted, I cover each hole over carefully and then cover the entire bed with 3-4 inches of mulch. This mulch is very important. It suppresses any weeds that want to come up. Garlic does not like to compete. It also keeps the cloves where they were planted. When frost comes, if the mulch is not there, you have much more heaving of the soil, which disrupts the plant growth. It helps keep the soil a touch warmer and happier. Lastly, the mulch decomposes over the 8-9 months that garlic stays in the ground. This keeps the soil from getting too depleted during garlic's long stay in the ground.
Yes, garlic is a long term visitor in the garden, but most of the time is over winter when the garden space is not used. Where garlic spends the winter, spring, and early summer, becomes a great place for a fall/winter garden the next year with just a touch of added compost and a little labor mixing in the rotting mulch.