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Say Goodnight and Sleep Tight

garlic and cloves on white surface

Part I: Garlic Planting

It’s November and getting quite cold in upstate New York, so it’s time to put the garden to bed. It was plentiful this past summer and the best gift I can give it is to give it a good rest and a treat.

But First, the Garlic

I’m still learning to be a better gardener every year. I make sure to jot down my notes in my garden notebook so I can implement changes in next year’s garden. Some veggies always do well and others, never. Some, like carrots, I am convinced can do well, I just haven’t found the right method or technique. Garlic is one of those plants for me.

Fresh garlic scapes from the summer

I am obsessed with garlic. I put it in everything, I make garlic confit and garlic olive oil. Next to salt and pepper, garlic is a guarantee in every dish I make. It was a logical next step when it came to expanding my garden. The summer of 2022 was my third season growing garlic. To date, the only thing I have successfully harvested and used has been the scapes. But I know I can figure this one out. I feel confident that this year would have been a success, if it were not for the extreme heat and drought of July and the fact that we were away on vacation during one of the hottest weeks, thus cooking my garlic to a crisp.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic is a bulb, obviously, and like any flower bulb, they are planted in the fall. This is because bulbs need vernalization in order to root properly and develop bulbs come spring. Basically they need the cool temps to start growing roots before going dormant in the winter. This gives them the best chance to grow and be ready in late summer. Garlic takes a long time to grow.

Map of USA Hardiness Zones.

I live in Zone 5b, but you should take a look at your zone and decide the best time to plant. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone map, I should be planting garlic around mid- to late-October. However, I’ve noticed in the last couple of years I’ve had to push that back into November because of warm falls. I don’t want my garlic to prematurely sprout and, ultimately, rot or not develop properly. It’s become harder to guess when the ground will freeze, but my goal is to get the garlic in the ground 4-6 weeks before then. Typically this means the daytime temperatures are now in the 40s or 50s and the nighttime temps get close to or just barely dip below freezing.

What Kind of Bulbs Should I Use?

There is no law against using garlic from the grocery store, but you will probably be disappointed. I did that my first time growing garlic and, while the garlic did sprout, I didn’t get much in the way of scapes and the bulbs were microscopic. These garlic bulbs tend to be of poorer quality for growing and may be designed to stay small or not grow much at all. Think about it – the last thing you want to buy in the grocery store is garlic with green shoots coming out.

garlic and cloves on white surface
Choosing the right garlic can sometimes come down to trial and error

I’ve taken a couple of approaches. In the fall of 2021, I planted some garlic that had been gifted to me from friends who grew their own garlic. This was the garlic I was most excited about but then died in the drought. I did get some fantastic garlic scapes, however, so it wasn’t a bust.

This year I am trying out two types of garlic bulbs: one from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds collection (German Extra-Hardy) and one from my local farm store, which specifically sells seed garlic. Both types are hardneck varieties.

When planting garlic, or anything in my garden for that matter, I don’t follow the rules of keeping everything far apart. Sometimes it works (like with potatoes or carrots) and sometimes it doesn’t (like zucchini). I absolutely take the approach of “well plants in nature don’t follow this rule and they turn out alright.”

Photo of a garden bed with leaves as a preparation for winter.

In this case I buried the garlic bulbs, points up, about 2 inches into the ground and a few inches apart, mostly in rows. This bed is entirely dedicated to the garlic, so I didn’t feel that organizing them was necessary. What’s awesome about garlic is that you don’t need a bed or formal garden to grow it – just a big pot, soil, and sun. You will want well draining soil to keep the bulbs from rotting. My natural soil in the ground is sand, but over the years I have added some garden soil and compost, so it’s a good mix.

Missed the timing for this year?

Don’t sweat it! Get ahold of some garlic bulbs ASAP and get a big pot. You can plant some garlic in the pot and keep it in the house or in your garage for a couple of weeks so it can get established, then put it outside to freeze.

Part II: Returning the Nutrients >>

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