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Growing Garlic 2020 Advice

  • Listed: September 28, 2020 9:06 am
  • Expires: 6 days, 7 hours
Garlic Image from Farragut Farm FB page

Description

Growing Garlic in Southeast Alaska (info. supplied by Andrea Fraga of Middle Island Gardens):

When to Plant: Soon! Garlic needs to spend 10 months in the ground in order to reach a nice size here in our climate. We have found that planting in the last week of September / first week of October produces much larger bulbs than a mid to late October planting. After all, garlic begins its growth underground, anchoring the plant to the soil before sending a leafy top up. The cooler temperatures and moisture of fall stimulate root growth, which stalls in the iciness of winter, so it’s best to give your plants plenty of time to grow a great network of roots. The better the root system, the greater the potential for large healthy tops, which then come full circle to nurture nice-sized, nutritious bulbs.

How to Plant: Prepare the soil: Before breaking open any bulbs, you will want to prepare a nice fertile, fluffy bed of soil, and ensure that your soil isn’t too acidic, weedy and ideally hasn’t grown any alliums (chives, garlic, onions) recently. Mixing 1 part soil with 1 part compost and 1 part shell sand should produce a nice result. The shell sand will provide good drainage and help to bring the pH towards the ideal range of 6-7. Mixing in a healthy dose of bone meal will also help increase the pH (Rainforest climates like ours tend to have a low, acidic pH) and provide a god source of phosphorus, a preferred food for root crops. Most importantly, though, garlic needs nitrogen. We feed ours with the decaying remnants of nitrogenous cover crops such as peas, fava beans and vetch, as well as composted chicken manure. Other organic sources include fish remains (be sure to bury!), fish meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, etc… Mixing in some seaweed will provide potassium, micronutrients and even growth hormones. Remove any root masses of weeds.

Try IRT mulch: Middle Island Gardens adapted this wonderful method from Master Gardener Joe Orsi of Juneau, with great results. IRT stands for Infra-Red Transmitting, and describes a type of thin brown plastic mulch used to warm the soil while simultaneously preventing weeds from growing. It also has the lovely advantage of moderating water, and protecting your plantings from heavy fall downpours! It does require a bit of extra expense and effort at planting time and sometimes in the spring when garlic tops emerge, but we find it is well worth it! We can provide you with more info if you are interested.

Break the bulbs, Plant the Cloves: Each clove within a bulb of garlic will produce its own plant, and eventually, bulb. Take care in separating the cloves before planting, as any injury may cause a clove to rot instead of grow. Choose the largest cloves from the biggest bulbs, and plant them pointy side up, approx. two inches deep, 4 inches if you aren’t likely to mulch heavily. Space the cloves 6-8” apart in rows, space rows 8” apart. Tuck them in with an additional pinch or two of your chosen fertilizer at this time. Mulch heavily to protect from winter weather. For the harshest winter months you can even tarp your beds over entirely.

Spring and Summer Care: Starting in February, begin to watch for emerging tops. Fertilize with fish emulsion or other nitrogen source once things warm up in the spring, usually late april-early may. Keep the garlic plot well weeded. Around the beginning of july, hardneck garlic will grow a curly-cue top, or “scape”. This is the plants’ attempt to flower, and should be snapped off to redirect its energy into growing a large bulb. Coincidentally, garlic scapes are delicious, and can be eaten raw in pesto, cooked like asparagus, or pickled.

Harvest and Curing: Around mid-July, start “spying” on the bulbs by removing some of the soil around the base to check on their progress. After nearly 10 months in the ground, things happen fast at the very end. Bulbs can grow approx. ¼” a week at this time. You will want to give them time to do this, yet pull them before they split open, which allows dirt to get between the cloves and compromises storage time. We have had good results harvesting in the last days of july, into the first week of august. Once you pull your plants, it is best to carefully wash the soil from them, then hang the plants in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight to cure for 4-6 weeks. Garlic can be eaten at any time, but develops a more complex flavor as it dries.

Recommended Resources:

  • The aforementioned Joe Orsi of Juneau has an informative website with garlic growing info: www.orsiorganicproduce.com
  • Gardening Goddess of Sitka Florence Welsh has a wonderful blog called sitkavores, and a post specific to growing garlic in Sitka:  sitkavores.blogspot.com/2015/10/garlic.html?m=0
  • The library has a copy of Ron Engeland’s awesome book, Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers
  • We are also happy to answer any of your questions, contact us at middleislandgardens@gmail.com or find us on Facebook HERE

More info. from Andrea Fraga 9/27/20:  Hello again garlic enthusiasts! Here’s a podcast with yet another take on growing garlic in SE AK by one of my personal garden heros, Bo Varsano of Farragut Farm located across a lot of water from Petersburg, AK”… Bo & his partner Marja Smetts are the largest commercial garlic growers in SE AK that i know of – growing 10,000 plants this past year! Enjoy, and happy planting. Find the garlic podcast here: psglib.org/podcast.

Here is a link to an Archive of Bo & Marja’s podcasts: www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/farragut

Additional Joe Orsi links supplied by Andrea Fraga:

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