Gardening: wise to plant garlic in the fall
October is the best time to plant garlic and play with shallots. Garlic is like a daffodil bulb. It should be planted in the fall so that the clove can grow roots during the winter, and then start growing a new bulb in early spring. Garlic planted in the spring will grow but the heads will be much smaller.
Shallots are another member of the onion family that are popular for dishes that need a subtle onion flavor. Although I have grown them successfully here, they will not survive an extremely cold winter. If this happens, you can plant another crop in the spring. Shallots grown in fall are ready at the start of summer while shallots planted in spring are ready at the end of summer. Garlic planted in the fall will be ready by the end of July.
Garlic seeds are available at our local garden centers and online. Grocery garlic is not rustic here, so avoid using it. Garlic from commercial seeds does not come cheap. A pound or about six to seven heads costs between $ 20 and $ 25 this year. Shallots can be purchased as seeds for spring planting, otherwise the bulbs will cost around $ 10-15 for a pound or bag of 10.
There are two kinds of garlic, softneck and hardneck. Soft-necked garlic has a soft, fibrous neck that is often braided into strands, while hard-necked garlic will have a stiff stem in the middle of the leaves.
The difference is that hard-necked garlic will have less but large cloves wrapped around the hard stem. Hard-necked garlic will send out a flower stalk or scape in the spring that can be harvested. They are tastier, keep only four to six months, but are easier to peel.
Soft-necked garlic will have more but smaller cloves in a stalkless cluster. They have a milder flavor and can be stored for nine to 12 months. There are dozens of varieties available on the market, so experiment to find your favorite. My favorite garlic is Music, a very spicy hard necked garlic.
To plant garlic or shallots, add a few inches of compost and work the soil in a flat bed. Dig a furrow about 2 inches deep. Break the heads of garlic into cloves and plant only the largest cloves. Place individual cloves or shallots at the bottom of the furrow, flat end down about 4 inches apart. Cover the plantation with soil and tamp gently.
Around mid-November, come back and cover the bed with 3-4 inches of mulch for insulation.
In March, remove the mulch to expose the germinating plants and fertilize them with a 5-10-10 fertilizer. Water only until mid-June and then let the plants rest to grow their large bulbs.
In late July, after half of the leaves on each plant have turned yellow, gently dig out the buds and store them in a dark, cool space for a month to harden.
Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at [email protected]