Why buy garlic at the store when you can grow it at home?
I hate to say that anything in gardening is foolproof, but growing garlic comes pretty darn close.
Seriously, if you ever wanted to plant something that was nearly guaranteed to succeed, it has to be the stinking rose. There are a lot of reasons to grow this rewarding crop (keeping away Dracula?), but if you want to harvest it next year, you need to plant it now.
Garlic has few pests, requires little space, and seems to be pretty hardy overall. The harvest is impressive, because each clove grows a new plant, which produces a whole new bulb of garlic. Some varieties can have four to seven cloves per bulb, which makes it a worthwhile endeavor for thrifty gardeners seeking an exponential reward.
In areas that have cold winters and shorter growing seasons, garlic prefers to be planted in the fall, protected by mulch and left to sprout when it’s ready in the springtime. If you want to have a bumper crop of garlic, there are a few tricks.
Plant between now and Halloween for best results and in a sunny location with loosened soil you’ve mixed some compost into. Choose a spot where you will not be digging around other plants – you want this to be your garlic bed where you don’t accidentally excavate the cloves as they’re growing.
Break the bulbs into cloves, and resist the urge to peel the skin off of them. Then poke the cloves into the ground (with the pointy end facing up) about four inches deep, about five inches apart. Then cover them with soil and a bit of mulch, and water thoroughly. I keep watering when it seems dry, until the ground completely freezes.
When the soil freezes, I put a few inches of dry leaves on top just for good measure.
CHOOSING A VARIETY
Can’t you just plant the garlic from the grocery store?
Well, sure, you can. And we all know that if you don’t use that garlic quickly enough, it starts to grow a bitter little green sprout anyway.
But here’s the deal: There are so many other kinds of garlic out there. Why would you grow the kind you can just buy at the store?
Some varieties are spicier, others are milder, some are purplish or pinkish. Why not try something new, like Persian star, Spanish rioja or Turkish red giant? There’s a whole world of garlic out there to taste!
SOFTNECK VS. HARDNECK
There are two main kinds of garlic: softneck and hardneck. OK, there’s elephant garlic, too, but it’s technically not garlic at all (it’s in the onion family), so we won’t go there. Sometimes people refer to softneck varieties as “artichoke” garlic.
Hardneck garlic grows a tall, upright stalk from the bulb, which curls into what is called the “scape.” Softnecks don’t do this, so they’re better for braiding into wreaths. One type of hardneck garlic, called a “rocambole,” actually thrives with cold winters, so it’s good for our climate.
I find that softneck varieties typically don’t perform as well here as the hardneck types, which don’t mind a really cold winter. Softneck garlic varieties also tend to have smaller cloves, with more cloves per bulb, so that’s something to consider as well.
SPEAKING OF PLANTING ...
The 19th annual Plant & Tree Sale Auction held by Colorado State University Extension is coming up on Oct. 8 at the extension office at 2775 U.S. Highway 50.
Every year, local nurseries donate plants, shrubs and trees for the event, which includes an auction featuring Buster Cattles. The plant sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the tree auction starts at 10 a.m.
The proceeds benefit the CSU Master Gardener Program and master gardeners will be on-hand to share advice on what will perform well in your yard and how to properly care for your new plants. For information, call 244-1834.