Fall is garlic planting time and that was evident at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania last weekend. It was in plentiful supply at some of the vendor booths. If you missed the Fair, you could probably still order some from BJ Gourmet Garlic Farm (OH), Botanical Interests (CO), Enon Valley Garlic (PA), Fruition Seeds (NY), High Mowing Seeds (VT), Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA), Sow True Seed (NC), and Turtle Tree Seeds (NY—garlic shipped from Nebraska). When the soil in your garden cools to about 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) it will be ready for garlic.
Garlic is a great crop. Plant it 2 inches deep at about 6 inches apart, cover it with a mulch of leaves, and let it go. It will grow up through the mulch. The mulch keeps the bed weed-free, leaving little for you to do until harvest time, which here in Zone 7 is early June. Just like with other crops, you will find varieties that mature at different rates, spreading the harvest over several weeks if you planted them all.
Before planting I amend the garlic bed with compost and any organic amendments it may need that would be evident from a soil test. I plant garlic on 6-inch centers in an hexagonal pattern. I know farmers who have made a dibble board that is as wide as their garden bed and has pieces of dowels screwed into it every 6 inches, or whatever spacing they are using. It might have several rows marked that way.
By pressing the board to the ground they could put indentations in the soil at each spot, and just as deep as, a garlic clove should go. You could also accomplish this task with a rolling dibble to pull down your bed, marking the planting spots. It makes the actual planting go faster and ensures accuracy if you have inexperienced help.
I met someone years ago who had a custom-made aluminum dibble that marked multiple rows across the bed at the same time. This farmer wanted adequate space for the plants in the middle of the rows and had carefully worked out the spacing so the garlic was 6 inches apart on the outside rows of his 4-foot wide bed and 8 inches apart in the middle.
Garlic is sold as bulbs which you divide into individual cloves for planting. Each clove grows into a bulb. Softneck garlic, which is what you most often see in the grocery store, has 10-12 cloves. If you planted only one head’s worth of garlic this fall, say 10 cloves, next year you would have 10 heads of garlic. You could eat half of your harvest and still have 5 heads to plant—about 50 cloves. If all goes well, the following year you would harvest 50 heads! Save your largest heads for cloves to plant back in the fall.
You don’t have to look far to find the health benefits of garlic. I have listed some at Home Earth, using The Green Pharmacy by Dr. James Duke as my reference. I remember reading years ago, although I don’t remember where, that during World War l the British soldiers carried a clove of garlic in their pocket to apply to wounds because of its ability to stop infections. I see that mentioned at Garlic Shaker. At Superstitions, Folklore and Fact, military use of garlic for treating wounds during World War I is mentioned as a fact, but by the Russian Army.
As for my own testimonial, last fall I was staying in a house with several other people while we attended Seed School. One of our housemates came down with a terrible cold. We had good homegrown garlic available, brought by one of the housemates to contribute to communal meals. We readily started our day eating cloves of garlic and no one else became sick. Chewing raw garlic cloves for breakfast might not be on your agenda, but you could eat pickled garlic. If you are already into fermenting vegetables, throw garlic into the crock. You can keep a jar of pickled cloves in the fridge to munch on regularly.
I hope this has encouraged you to make garlic a part of your life, starting with planting it this fall.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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