In some ways, fall helps us reset our gardening clock. With a bit of rain after the blistering heat of early September, we are reenergized along with our garden plants, and this is a good time to plant winter veggies, perennials and, of course – garlic!
In addition to changing leaves, planting garlic seems to be a harbinger of fall – and, although it takes time and cool temperatures to grow decent size bulbs, garlic is easy to grow. Garlic can be planted from now until the ground freezes – in our area sometimes in November or December, depending on elevation. Garlic (scientific name Allium sativum) is sub-classified as either hardneck or softneck, depending on the presence of a central woody stalk through the center of the bulb which constitutes hardneck. When sliced through the middle, softneck garlic shows several layers around a soft central stem with smaller cloves in the middle and larger cloves toward the outside of the bulb.
Hardneck garlic needs 4 to 6 weeks of cold (below 45 degrees) for bulbs to adequately develop. Softneck garlic is not as temperature dependent and therefore grows better in warmer areas of the country. Planted too early, garlic stands the chance of developing rot, disease or destruction by hungry rodents. To better establish garlic in our warming climate, and at lower elevations, waiting until the first hard frost may achieve heartier garlic bulbs.
Hardneck garlic tends to have more flavor and fewer cloves (4 to 12) per bulb than softneck garlic, which can sometimes boast 24 to 30 cloves per bulb. Hardneck garlic is “top set”, meaning it develops flowering tops, or scapes that grow in curling fashion on the central stem which are delicious when cooked.
To plant garlic, break off individual cloves, and remove the outer paper covering, leaving the cloves fully clothed. Keeping the pointed side up (and fuzzy, or root-side down), plant each clove about 2-inches deep, spacing cloves about 4-to-6 inches apart. Soil should be loose and well-draining, amended with compost. During the growing season, garlic can be side dressed with a little more compost, or the addition of fish emulsion. Rows of garlic should be about 10 to 12-inches apart. Ensure the soil is moist at planting time, but not soaking wet – garlic tends to rot if left in soggy soil. Garlic will be ready to harvest in June, or July – or when the leaves start to turn yellow and brown.
After harvesting the garlic, brush off excess soil and trim the roots. Cure garlic by allowing it to dry in a shady, relatively cool space on a drying rack or screen. Curing will help prepare the garlic for long term storage. Softneck garlic will store longer than hardneck and can be braided together and hung in a cool, dry location. Hardnecks can be stored loosely in mesh or net bags, or wire baskets. Save a few cloves of your favorite garlic to grow next year.
Other celebrations of fall include planning and planting winter veggies, such as lettuce, chard, kale and other leafy greens. Alliums such as onions can be planted in the fall, and root crops such as beets and carrots can be sown now. For brassicas (such as broccoli and cauliflower) and vegetables that mature over a longer time, transplanting starts from home or local nurseries can yield a lovely harvest for winter.
For the conclusion of the series, “Family Fun in the Garden”, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County are presenting a Fall Celebration, October 8, at 10 a.m. This will be a way to celebrate the garden, and the work done with the children during the series. These family workshops have been designed for parents, grandparents, and friends to bring children to our Demonstration Garden to learn a number of aspects of vegetable gardening.
The fall celebration will consist of a number of garden-related activities, including making wreaths from things available in the garden; the pumpkins planted last spring will be harvested and decorated; there will be a garden-scavenger hunt; and ways to prepare the garden for winter including consideration for over-wintering birds and insects. In addition, there may be some added fun with herbs. The fall event is designed for families with children age 4 and older, and adults must stay with the children for the duration of the workshop. Adults are invited to participate with the children.
Later in October, Master Gardeners will present, “The Art and Science of Pruning Fruit Trees” which is scheduled for October 15 at 10 a.m. Please check the website at https://ncmg.ucanr.org/ for further details as they become available.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener