Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Garlic through the seasons in Albuquerque

In general, garlic will grow best in a highly composted, well-drained soil.  Given our usual New Mexico soils, that means amendments.  An organic compost is best.  Garlic also is said to like full sun but dappled light is probably fine or full sun part of the day here where full sun is pretty brutal.

Late summer, early fall:  Seed garlic will start becoming available.  Read up on the different types to decide what you’d like to try and buy your seed.  If you buy organic garlic in the grocery store, you can separate the cloves off the head, retaining some of the roots on the bottom (don’t remove the paper) and plant them.  If you’re planning to plant from cooking garlic, save the best and biggest cloves for the garden.

Fall:  In October, as late as Halloween, plant your cloves.  At the time you plant, or perhaps a few days before, add a substantial layer of compost if the soil needs amendments.  One person I know dumps in a few inches of horse manure and plants directly in that.

Cloves should be planted flat, root side down and pointed tip up.  The cloves should be planted at least 2 inches deep.  The cloves should be planted about 6 inches apart.

Winter:  Keep the soil moist but not wet until the ground temperatures drop to or near freezing - in theory in mid-December.  At this time, put the garlic to bed with a deep layer of mulch (4 - 6 inches).

Spring:  As the green leaves begin appearing it is important to keep the soil evenly moist to ensure good bulb development.  One source says that garlic needs an inch of water per week.  This is also the time to do a foliar spray of dilute liquid fish emulsion.  
Late spring:  No fertilizing should be done after mid-May.  At this point, fertilizer will encourage the plant to develop lovely green leaves but actually you want a beautiful full root.

Summer:  As the leaves begin to yellow, limit watering so the bulbs won’t rot.  Keep the area weeded so the garlic won’t have to compete for nutrients.

At some point, scapes may appear.  A scape is the stem that holds the flower.  In general, scapes happen with hardneck but not so much with softneck varieties.  The scape needs to be cut off above the last leaf.  One article says that bulb production can be reduced by up to 30% in poor soil as the plant shifts its energy into the flower.  Scapes are good to eat with a mild garlicky flavor, so don’t just toss them into the compost pile.

In late June or early July, when there are only five green leaves, the garlic is ready to harvest.

Harvest:  Dig the bulbs out carefully - they are very fragile and will bruise easily until cured.  Brush the dirt off but leave on the roots and leaves.  The garlic should either be laid out or hung in a well-ventilated area out of direct sun.   It takes another one to two months for the garlic to cure properly.  Although you can eat green garlic if you can’t wait!

Sources:  The information here was taken from the following articles as well as personal experience and conversations with fellow garlic gardeners.

An interesting blog focused on the Santa Fe community but with valuable information for us here in Albuquerque.

A good general reference on growing garlic.  There’s a good basic description of differences between hard and soft neck garlic varieties.  It’s particularly valuable, I think, for its links out to garlic sources.

This article from Seed Savers Exchange is a succinct but complete checklist (well, bulleted points) for growing and harvesting garlic.  Better yet, you can order at least a dozen different varieties of organic seed garlic. 

Garlic plant illustration
The two illustration links given above are further referenced back to this site.
Source: Sterling, S. January 2000. Garlic. www.dpi.vic.gov.au.  Note that this link goes to a home page.  I was not able to find the actual article cited.

Last reviewed, updated, and links checked:  4 June 2015.

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