Here in Central Pennsylvania it’s almost time to plant the fall garlic seed that will grow into enormous cloves of delicious gourmet garlic by the middle of next summer.
Sure you can plant garlic next spring, but in most areas you’ll get healthier plants, larger cloves, and better results from a fall sowing of this cold hardy root vegetable.
The Gourmet Garlic Advantage
If you’re a garlic lover who’s been settling for store bought cloves of the same old variety of commercial garlic, you really don’t realize what you’re missing when it comes to true gourmet garlic flavor, quality, and variety. With just a little effort you can grow exotic varieties of gourmet type garlic that you will never find on the shelves at the local supermarket.
Grocers typically sell a single variety of garlic that’s all planted and grown in California for shipment across the country. In comparison there are probably hundreds of different strains of garlic with flavors ranging from mild, to spicy hot, to the searing type of blazing heat that you experience when eating horseradish.
You can grow garlic bulbs that have subtle colors, stripes, or marbled patterns on the wrappers that are very striking in appearance. Some garlic is best suited for roasting and eating as a side dish, while others lend themselves to baking and spreading onto thick slices of French bread.
Many strains of garlic are great when used raw in dishes such as guacamole or hummus. Other garlic varieties have complex, lingering flavors that are perfect for cooked dishes, soups, and stews.
Start by Selecting Good Quality Garlic Seed
Yes, there’s a whole world of exciting and unique garlic varieties waiting to be explored, but in order to take advantage of the opportunity you’ll have to grow them yourself or purchase the bulbs from specialty mail-order garlic suppliers.
You’ll find it much cheaper to plant your own garlic, and fortunately this vegetable is easy to grow, requires very little care, and is virtually untouched by insect pests. The perfect crop, even for beginner gardeners!
When growing garlic it’s important to start out by planting quality garlic seed stock that you obtain from a reputable seed supplier. Using garlic from the grocer as seed will handcuff you with limited variety and there’s a chance that the commercial garlic bulbs may have been treated with chemical agents to retard sprouting.
The purchase of garlic seed is strictly a one time initial investment that the gardener won’t incur in later growing seasons. After that original purchase of garlic seed stock you’ll be able to reserve part of the garlic that you harvest to use as seed for your future garlic plantings.
The Key to Fall Garlic Planting Success
One of the amazing characteristics of garlic is that you can plant the seed in the fall to start the growth process that will be completed the following summer. Garlic is very hardy and many varieties don’t perform at their best unless subjected to harsh winter weather conditions.
If you live and garden in a warm weather climate you may find it a bit more challenging to raise good gourmet garlic, and you may also be limited to cultivating spring plantings of the Creole varieties of garlic which are better adapted to mild growing conditions.
The timing of your fall planting is critical. Your objective is to time the fall garlic plantings so that the cloves have a few weeks to establish good root development before freezing weather conditions set in. Yet you don’t want to plant the garlic seed so early that the seed cloves have time to send up above ground leaf shoots before cold temperatures halt the plant’s growth.
If you get a little leaf growth before winter strikes don’t worry, your garlic plants will be just fine. The formation of an established root system during the fall will prepare the garlic plants for an early emergence and promote rapid growth at the first signs of the arrival of spring.
Planting Your Gourmet Garlic Seed
A good rule of thumb is to plant the garlic seed about four to six weeks before the ground is subject to freezing in your growing region. Plant the garlic in a prepared raised bed that has been loosened and had a layer of compost, mushroom soil, or an organic fertilizer incorporated into it.
Don’t separate the garlic bulbs that you’re using for seed until just before you are ready to plant them in the garden. The end of the clove with the root scar which was attached to the bottom of the garlic bulb should be facing down when planted in the ground.
I usually lay all of the seed cloves out on the surface of the raised bed to eyeball the proper spacing distances that I want, then I go back and gently press each clove into the soil. Space the seed about six inches apart and three inches deep in the growing bed.
Additional Fall Garlic Growing Tips
After the ground freezes in early winter mulch the entire garlic bed with a three or four inch layer of shredded leaves. This covering will insulate the bed over the winter, help conserve moisture, and control weed growth in the spring.
Once the garlic seed is planted and the mulch has been applied, there’s nothing more to do until it’s time for a few simple springtime garlic growing tasks that I’ll cover later.
This article has been submitted as part of the ProBlogger “How To…” Group Writing Project. In the next post I’ll share a few tips on buying gourmet garlic seed and show you how to get your hands on the best and largest of the garlic seed cloves offered to home gardeners for planting fall garlic.
Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts: