Falling for Garlic

Reader Contribution by Regina Hitchcock
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Fall in Northern Arizona is one of those seasons that vaguely resembles what people typically consider fall; browning leaves, cool temperatures. But it is different than the rest of Arizona because of the unique tendency of fall to be BITTER cold one day and 60º the next, raining in the morning and snowy by afternoon. One thing that Northern Arizonans can focus on besides the bizarre weather is planting their garlic. 

Garlic is a leaf crop, not a root crop as some might think. As such, the best way to get large, hardy bulbs of garlic is to make sure your soil has enough nitrogen. Nitrogen runs through soil like mad, so adding a nice layer of mulched leaves will help the nitrogen be released into the soil as the winter snow and rain break down the organic material. 

What I always do is turn my soil. I don’t typically till, but the Texas Blueweed that runs rampant in my yard and garden sends runners down for 30 feet. In order to stop weeds popping up in garden beds, I dig as much of it out as I can. We also have very dense, sticky clay soil that needs to be perforated in order to let water and nutrients down to the root zone. Then I break up any huge clumps of soil by hand, and rake it fairly smooth. I don’t use a lot of tools in the soil while I’m planting, so I need the soil to be soft enough that I can push the garlic clove down into the soil. This “turning over” of soil just makes that possible.

This year, I went with Filaree Farms for garlic and was very pleased. I got several different kinds of garlic, including their new “Burque” variety. It smelled amazing when I took it out of the carefully packaged bags. I tried four of their varieties, including my favorite Chesnok Red, which I grow every year with great success, Inchelium Red, and a Silver White variety. 

To plant garlic, the bulbs should be gently separated into individual cloves. The flat end of each clove is where the root will emerge, so it should be planted down. How cold your winters are should, in part, determine how deep you plant the cloves. The general rule, however, is about twice the depth of the clove is how deep you should plant. I expect winters to be in the 0-15º range most of the time, so I plant just a tiny bit deeper. We don’t get much winter precipitation, so I don’t worry too much about them heaving out of the ground anyway.

Once the cloves are planted, I will water them deeply, even if the soil is very, very cold. I know Northern Arizona winters are bitter cold, but just as dry as the summers are, so I give them that little headstart. If it doesn’t rain or snow by Christmas, I’ll water them again then, on any day that is warm enough to thaw out the hoses. 

The last thing to do is cover the garlic with some mulch. If it rains or snows once a month or so, I don’t do much with the garlic bed until spring, when I start watering as soon as the green tips show their tiny little heads through the mulch.

Garlic is one of the easiest things in the world to grow; just stick it in the ground close to your first fall frost, add mulch and water if dry. In the spring you can add a little blood meal to help provide some nitrogen and in late summer, just harvest by popping the big heads out of the ground when the stalks and leaves are at least halfway dry!

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