It’s your lucky day, gentle reader! It’s Ask the Farm Lady Day! We’ll join the Farm Lady at her kitchen island as she answers a burning question from a reader.
Farm Lady: (pulling slip of paper from large pickle jar) Ah-ha! Great question from gentle reader and fellow garlic lover, ah, I shall call him “Ned.”A garlic-planting question: perfect timing!
I’ll get Ned on the line. (dialing sounds)
Farm Lady: Hello . . . “Ned”?
“Ned”: Uhh, no ma’am, this is
Farm Lady: (brief coughing fit) Do you mind if I call you “Ned”? You sent a question to the Farm Lady–and I’m calling to answer your question. I’m the Farm Lady!
“Ned”: Awesome, Farm Lady. Let ‘er rip.
Farm Lady: Here goes: “Dear Farm Lady, Why should I grow my own garlic? After all, you kin (sic) buy it at the store. Ain’t that easier, by far?”
“Ned”: That does surely sound like me.
Farm Lady’s Answer-with-a-Question: “Ned.” Ned, Ned, Ned. Tell me: have you been to a store lately? As you know, there’s a pandemic going on. Masks–germiness–shortages–empty shelves–rancor, disappointment and rancor. Do you really want a part of that?
“Ned”: Pandemic? You’re kiddin’ me.
Farm Lady: . . . Uhhh, okay. Lady Luck is smiling down on you just the same, “Ned,” though you apparently live under a rock, as I am planting my own garlic today, and you can tag along! Virtually, of course. You’ll see how simple it is to plant your own garlic, and you’ll never have to go to the store to buy garlic again! Planting garlic is like . . . planting treasure seeds!
“Ned”: Shazzam! Yer the bees knees, Farm Lady!
Farm Lady: I know, “Ned”. I know. How about a few garlic-related facts, before we start digging?
“Ned”: Uhhh my show starts in twenty minutes. Can we keep it short? I’m a big fan of “This is US.”
Farm Lady: er, absolutely. I’ll keep it short.
What garlic likes
While garlic can be planted in the early spring, you will get better yields by planting in the fall. I (Farm Lady here) try to plant when the soil temperature at 4″ deep is approximately 50°F. If the year is unusually warm, I’ll wait a week.
(Of course, if you can’t find your soil thermometer (raising hand) a big snowstorm is threatening, and it’s late October, you just get ‘er done, and hope for the best.)
Here in Nebraska (zone 5), we usually plant garlic in mid-October, though this October has been warmer than usual, so I’m waiting a week or two. Pro Tip: A good rule of thumb that you garlic-lovers living in areas with cold winters might want to memorize: plant your garlic two to three weeks after the first frost in the fall, but before the ground freezes solid for the winter.
The tiny garlic roots will grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F. Your garlic cloves do not mind these growth fits and starts overmuch, as long as you have mulched them well. In colder areas, you want your garlic to grow roots before the big freeze-up arrives, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the winter has passed. If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it will re-grow and be fine.
Here’s some great news for those of you in cold areas: When properly planted, garlic can withstand winter lows of -30°F. If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter. If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.
Farm Lady: So you see, “Ned,” timing is of the essence. The Essence!
“Ned”: Gosh. Seems so complicated, Farm Lady.
Farm Lady: Not at all! Bottom line: if you live in Zone 5, plant in mid-to-late October and your garlic will probably be fine.
(Much of this information is gleaned from Pam Dawling’s excellent article in Growing for Market, and if you want more details about planting garlic in warmer areas, you might want to check out that piece in its entirety.)
Harvest your garlic crop next mid-summer, when the garlic tops begin to dry out and droop. A note about weeds: You, gentle reader, undoubtedly keep your garden clean and weed-free, not like some unwitting Farm Lady I know, who has to take a machete to the weeds before she can locate the garlic patch. Don’t be
me, er, her, gentle reader. *cough* You’ll get better yields if you keep that patch free of weeds.
What you are going to like
A cool thing about planting garlic (especially for the fellow tightwads in the room) is that after you harvest your first crop, you’ll never have to purchase seed garlic again! Choose the biggest and most beautiful heads and tuck them away in a dry, dark, cool place for a few months and when the time is right, you’ll be ready to plant next year’s crop. If you continue to do this year after year, eventually your garlic variety will adapt to your particular conditions. Garlic is nifty that way. Generous, forgiving, flexible, and fruitful.
Garlic would be a great friend to have. If it were a person, say, instead of an allium.
“Ned”: Daggonnit, I jes’ remembered somethin’.
Farm Lady: And that would that be–?
“Ned”: My dang chickens dug up most of my garlic the last time I planted it!
Farm Lady: No worries. I can totally help you with that issue.
You can actually buy organic garlic bulbs from the grocery store and they will probably sprout for you, or you can spend quite a bit more and order specific varieties from mail-order companies. Of course, this weird year when you never know what you’ll find on the shelves or not, you may not be able to find any seed garlic. You may have to use that organic grocery store garlic. (If you can find it in the store, that is. *siiigh*) I’ve done it both ways!
Separate the garlic bulbs carefully into cloves not long before you plant. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, being careful not to break the basal plate on the cloves, as that will make them unusable for planting.
Pro tip: Plant the teeny-tiny cloves in a separate area, to use next spring as garlic scallions.
Garlic does best in a sandy or loamy soil with good drainage and a pH of 6.0-8.4, with 6.8 optimum. Generally 1-2″ of water per week during the growing season (not during the winter) is about right, until the leaves start to yellow and the bulbs start to dry down, when irrigation should be stopped. Fertile soil with lots of organic matter and a full range of nutrients is needed to grow good garlic, and so is full sun. I spread an inch of good compost on the soil where I’m going to plant.
My planting deets:
- Plant four rows in a bed, with 5″ spacing between the cloves.
- I prefer my garden beds to be around 4 ft. wide.
- Allow 8-10″ between rows.
- Plant your cloves around 3-4″ deep, and ‘nother pro tip: double-check that you are planting them with the pointy sides up!
“Ned”: (steady, deep breathing)
Farm Lady: Wake up, “Ned,” here’s the part where you’re going to protect your garlic patch from your chickens.
“Ned”: *snorts awake* Uhh–kay
How you protect your garlic cloves from your chickens
Immediately after planting, I mulch with at least 6″ of rotted hay (it’s heavier than straw or leaves and hopefully will stay in place during our winter weather) or a combination of hay, straw, leaves, and grass clippings to protect the cloves from violent swings in the weather (that’s Nebraska’s middle name*) and, of course, marauding chickens.
*A bit of randomness
A scene inwhich Nebraska is interviewed:
Interviewer: (addressing Nebraska): Name, please–first and middle
Nebraska: Nebraska, Violent-Swings-in-the-Weather
Interviewer: Got it. NEXT!
As with all alliums, keeping your new garlic bed free of weeds is important. Yield decreases by a phenomenal amount (as much as 50% in total) if you don’t weed the garlic patch. Yikes!
“Ned”: Okay, I never weeded mine at-all. That might explain something or other. Also I couldn’t find the garlic when it was time to harvest it.
Here’s a nifty fact for the nerds among us: The start of bulb formation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by day length exceeding 13 hours, with temperatures above 68°F as a secondary trigger. Hot weather above 91°F will end bulb growth and hasten maturation or drying down. Therefore, it is important to get plenty of good rapid growth in before the plant dies back.
Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth, and removing the scapes (the charming hard central stem) (which you can eat, pickle, pesto, ferment, and so forth, but that’s another story!) of hardneck garlic about 3 weeks before harvest, when they make one curl on top, can increase the bulb size 25%. If you can control it (i.e. no sudden summer showers, please and thank you, Lord), watering should stop two weeks before harvest as well (one week after starting to harvest scapes), to help the plants dry down.
Farm Lady: Got all that, “Ned”? I hope that answers any questions you might have?
“Ned”: (gentle snoring)
Farm Lady: Oh, “Ned,” how much did you sleep through, anyway?
“Ned”: *yawns* What Pandemic, Farm Lady?
The part where I announce the giveaway
Guess what, Gentle Reader? I am hosting a flash giveaway of a couple of heads of my own garlic, grown right here on our tiny farm. I’ll send two heads of seed garlic to a lucky gentle reader. If you’ve shopped for seed garlic, you’ll see that it’s not cheap, running at nearly $40/pound!
Since it’s garlic-planting season right now, this giveaway will only run for one week from today, and then I’ll put all the entries into my Magical Pickle Jar and choose one gentle reader to send two heads of my own garlic to.
You need to do only three things to enter:
- Share this post in whichever way you share good things with your friends (email, IG, FB, whatev)
- Comment on this post how you shared it (and any other interesting comment you may have!), and
- Sign-up for my email alerts (above, underneath my face) if you haven’t already.
Boom! That’s it! That will give you three automatic entries into the Magical Pickle Jar. In one week, I’ll draw a winner randomly, and notify him/her, and forthwith send garlic to the winner!
Good luck! and the best of luck to you this fall, as you wrap up your fall gardens and plant your garlic!
Thanks for popping in–Take care, folks.
*hugs from the Farm Lady*
The Outtakes because I can’t resist
subtitle: what happens when your doggy is always in your face when you’re taking photos 🙂
More from my site
- On homeschooling a teenager: i.e. cultivating blessed land
- How to Plant Fall Bulbs and a *giveaway!*: bulbs from DutchGrown