The yearly cycle of garlic

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon).


Here it is. October 12. The traditional Columbus Day. And here I am like a miser counting her gold. Only for me, it’s garlic cloves. I’m finding the biggest and best garlic cloves of the 2016 harvest to be planted today for the 2017 garlic crop. Columbus Day is garlic-planting day.


Garlic harvest was in July, when 72 heads of garlic were harvested and dried. It was a good year. Big beautiful heads of garlic like the one above.


On April 12, the garlic was already several inches high. Regular watering is most important at this point.


By June 21, the scapes, or blossoms, have been harvested. The plants are still green and requiring lots of water. When the leaves start to die back naturally in July, it’s time to stop watering. When the leaves are about a third dried up, it’s time to harvest.


Don’t wait too long for harvest because the heads will rather quickly grow more roots and start to deteriorate. I think I was a few days late with harvest this year, but the heads are still magnificent. If I do say so myself.


This year, the garlic was dried indoors on my new grow light cart, without the lights on, of course.


In previous years, in order to facilitate the drying process, I moved the garlic heads outside each day to the picnic table or other shady area, and brought them in each night in brown paper bags. But this year they stayed on the grow cart in an air-conditioned, low-humidity environment that pleased them well evidently. One would think that the garlic smell in the house would be overwhelming, but that really isn’t the case. When the heads are not disturbed, they don’t smell so much. Maybe I just get used to the smell, but no one has complained.


Here are the garlic heads on July 19, still pretty dirty–never wash garlic heads, and don’t rush the drying process–but certainly the leaves are much drier.


At this time, I pulled all the dry leaves off the stems. Most of the dirt on the heads also came off with the outer dried tissue on the heads. Starting to look good, don’t you think. This cleaning process drove my yellow lab, Daisy, totally crazy. Was it the smell, or maybe the squeaky sound of the dried leaves coming off. I don’t know. But the poor dog hid in the upstairs hallway until I had finished this process.

When I thought the stalks were dry enough, I cut them into manageable lengths and put the heads in a dark, cool corner of the basement in brown paper bags. We used some in cooking. They were used in salsa and marinara sauce for freezing. I gave some to friends and neighbors.

Now we’re back to today. October 12. Columbus Day. When the new garlic crop is planted. I prepared 2 beds–3 feet by 3 feet–by loosening the soil with a broad fork. The broad fork does a good job in the middle of the beds, but it’s still important to go around the edges with a smaller garden fork to get all the soil loose to as deep a level as possible. Above you can see how the garden fork can be buried in the loose soil–down maybe 8 inches or more. Think how hard the garlic plant has to push against the soil to produce those awesome heads. It’s really important for the soil to be friable, as they say.


Compost, rock phosphate, and lime were incorporated into the soil at this time. After raking this loose, amended soil as level as possible, I use a dibble, a 1 inch dowel with a 45° cut at the bottom, an Eliot Coleman invention described in The Winter Harvest Handbook, to create holes in the soil for the garlic cloves. These holes are invariably too deep. If the garlic clove slips down deeper than an inch, it will not develop well. So, make the holes with the dibble, and then fill them back in again before you push the garlic clove down to about 1 inch below the surface of the soil. Sprout end up, of course.

Finally, gently rake the soil over the holes, cover with salt hay or other mulch, and water thoroughly. I also sprinkled the garlic beds with some 2-4-1 fish fertilizer in water. Keep the beds well-watered through the fall. You may see some green appear before winter sets in, but hopefully, most of the growth and development will be below ground.

So, the 2017 garlic crop is planted on schedule. We have an abundance of garlic heads stored in the basement for use until the new crop is harvested next July. The yearly cycle of garlic continues. Life is good.

Looking back through my many garlic posts, it’s interesting to see the repetition in each year’s garlic cycle, but also interesting to note the evolution of my garlic strategies. So great to keep a blog. I recommend it to anyone with a hobby or special interest. Such a good way to focus your attention. Also a good way to keep notes. You know that diary you always wanted to keep but never did. Me too. Starting a blog is the way to do it.

Happy Columbus Day.

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