Growing Gourmet Garlic, Part 5: Spacing, Planting and Mulching


planting garlicOnce your soil is prepared, the timing is right and your cloves are popped – it is finally time to plant! Spacing your planting holes must be a balance between how many plants you want to grow and the space you have available. If you are planting different cultivars, maximize the space you have available by planting naturally smaller strains closer together than the larger ones. Spacing is important with gourmet garlic, because your goal is produce the largest, healthiest bulbs you can.

Our garlic is planted in sections that are divided into beds, which then contain rows. You can make the rows as long and wide as you like, but I recommend that, in terms of width, you should be able to comfortably reach the middle of the row from each side. Being able to reach at least halfway into the row without significant stretching will make the forthcoming weeding and scape removal much easier.

We plant four rows per bed, the rows 8 in. apart, with approximately 6 in. between the planted cloves. Spacing in this manner allows the bulbs plenty of space to grow while maximizing our use of the ground we have available. You can space your rows differently, but in my experience, most gourmet garlic growers plant their rows 6-8 in. apart, with a 6-8 in. distance between the cloves. We also stagger our rows of holes, with the second and fourth rows beginning approximately 3 in. down from the first and third. This planting method yields us eight plants per ft.

As we plant thousands of pounds of gourmet garlic every year, we constructed a dedicated roller with blunt spikes set to our desired measurements and we roll it down the rows behind our tractor. For smaller numbers of cloves, however, a spiked hand-roller, a pegged jig, or even a thick stick is sufficient to create holes. It does not need to be fancy, just effective! Regarding depth, we plant all of our cultivars at a depth of approximately 2 in., and we recommend this as a starting point for new growers. If your region has very warm temperatures you can decrease this depth to 1-1 ½ in, and likewise, if your region has particularly severe winters you can increase the depth to 3-4 in. to provide the cloves with greater insulation and protection.

I recommend cracking and planting a single cultivar at a time, especially if you are planting several varieties. This will help prevent mix-up of strains. Also ensure that your rows are clearly labeled with a medium that will survive the winter weather; we use painted wooden stakes with the names of each cultivar carefully written in indelible ink marker. Even though this system works well, we still refresh the writing in the spring as a precautionary measure. It is also helpful to create a paper or electronic database outlining your field plan, just in case your outdoor marking system goes awry. garlic holes

Once you have marked your holes and you are ready to plant, place a single clove in each hole with the basal plate down and the tip pointing upwards. This sounds like common sense and is easily controlled when you are doing your own planting, but I have seen occasions where improper supervision of workers resulted in entire sections planted upside down. The garlic will still grow when planted this way, but it will be malformed and more difficult to market as gourmet. If you wish for more precise orientation of your plants, planting the cloves with their backs facing either the inside or the outside of the row will result in a high number of plants with their leaves growing along the axis of the rows.

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