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‘Happy’ garlic

The garlic harvest: scapes and bulbs.
Submitted by Carolyn Singer |

“Happy” is how Chicago Park organic farmer John Drew described his garlic to me this week. Planted two weeks ago, it is now a few inches in height, a healthy promise of abundance next year.

In my own garden, it is the late blooms of two species of Helianthus that signal garlic-planting season. While I purchased bulbs weeks ago, the harvest of summer crops was keeping me too busy to move into fall planting mode.

Right now the perennial sunflower given to me years ago by Harry Stowe is reminding me of him as it opens golden flowers on six-foot stalks. A friend in Sonoma County propagated a start from my garden, and is overwhelmed with the 12-foot height hers reach. Of course she gives them much more irrigation than I do.



More than 20 years ago, Harry drove into my driveway unexpectedly, quickly unloading a box of Helianthus maximilianii, saying “you don’t have this in your garden and you should!” With this, he drove off. I treasure this annual visit from Harry through the legacy of his flowers. He was a grower for the local Growers’ Market in its earliest days.

Spilling over a white picket fence in Alyce Hammond’s Grass Valley garden is the last perennial sunflower to bloom: Helianthus angustifolius. An October reminder of the waning season and the priority of garlic planting!




Garlic cloves planted in October are quick to respond to the warmth in the clay soil, with early growth that will endure through winter storms. However, even garlic planted later in November will give you a good crop next year.

Add a one-inch layer of decomposed poultry manure, or compost, to good garden soil. Garlic is a heavy feeder for several months! Rock powders are essential. Colloidal phosphate (or soft rock phosphate) is an important addition for development of strong roots and formation of cloves. Twenty pounds per hundred square feet is a bare minimum — it would be difficult to overdo this nutrient.

Oyster shell changes the soil pH, making the phosphorus more available. Add five pounds per hundred square feet. When soils cool in fall, phosphorus absorption by plants slows. My goal is phosphorus availability for early root growth before winter dormancy, and then again for bulb formation when growth becomes active in early spring.

Cloves are soaked for an hour in a kelp solution, a teaspoon to a quart of water. Each is pushed into the soft rich soil, several inches apart, covering the top with one and a half inches. Some straw stays on the soil surface, providing a light mulch to protect the bed from heavy rains.

Smaller cloves are planted separately, grown as a perennial for “green garlic.” Multiple shoots form, increasing in numbers each year. The harvest of green garlic starts long before the main garlic harvest, and provides months of mild garlic shoots which are harvested by cutting them just below the soil surface, leaving the roots to generate more growth the following years.

The next harvest will be the scapes, beautifully twisting stems supporting buds. These form before the main harvest and are a special spring delicacy, chopped and added to greens or asparagus. Use all of the stem and the bud.

Then, at last, in late May or early June comes the main harvest as leaves yellow and mature plants are lifted to dry. A fall-planted crop perfectly timed to enhance the summer vegetables.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.


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