Thursday, October 31, 2013

Get Your Garlic in the Ground!

Master Gardener Amy Weiss writes: 

October and November are busy months for the farmers of the Lehigh Valley. They have important tasks to finish before the ground hardens for the winter including, planting cover crops or "green manure", harvesting fall planted brassicas and planting garlic.

Garlic is planted in the fall, (usually late September through October in our region) and harvested in the summer. The old adages are "plant on Columbus Day...harvest on the Fourth of July" and "plant when the kids go back to school (September)...and harvest when they get out (June)". Obviously, there is some flexibility around the plant and harvest dates by region, but it is important that garlic be planted at least three to six weeks before the ground freezes hard in order to promote good root growth in the fall. Good root growth in the fall promotes larger bulbs.

Garlic is a member of the lily family and is second only to onions as the most important allium crop in the world. It has been widely used for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal attributes. Garlic consumption in the US has quadrupled since 1980 and is now 2 pounds per capita. Farmers plant around 32,000 - 35,000 acres of garlic annually in the United States.

Garlic can be grown successfully in many parts of the United States, but it has a few important requirements that must be met for a successful crop. It must be grown on well-drained soil. A heavy clay or stony soil may allow fusarium rot and other fungal diseases to take hold. Garlic is also a heavy feeder. It requires an organic soil with lots of nitrogen. A soil test is highly recommended before planting a garlic crop and the soil amended as necessary before bulbs are planted. Another problem for garlic, and any allium crop, is weed competition. Garlic does not like weeds and finds it hard to outcompete them.  So, a cultivation plan is essential.  Also, mulch is important to moderate soil temperature and prevent soil compaction.

When purchasing seed stock to plant garlic, purchase from a reputable garlic grower. Do not plant garlic bulbs from the supermarkets as they have been treated. Look for bulbs that are 2 to 2 1/2 inches across and plant about 2 inches deep.  Make sure you plant the basal plate down. The bulbs are actually plants, not seeds. You wouldn't want to plant a tomato plant upside down!

After your garlic is planted and mulched you can relax until you see the bottom 1/3 of the scape (the curling top of the plant) is brown. Then, it time to dig up your garlic and enjoy! Make sure you store it at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 - 60 percent humidity and you will be eating homegrown garlic all summer and winter long!

Support Your Farmer:

LEHIGH VALLEY: Salvaterra’s Gardens is a family-owned farm on 7.5 acres in Alburtis, Lehigh County.  They grow garlic and a variety of other vegetables.  You can find them at the Easton Farmers’ Market!

BERKS: Sweet Fleece Farm is a small, family-run farm in northern Berks County.  They breed a diverse breed of alpacas and produce a crop of garlic each year.  Their garlic has won blue ribbons at local fairs!

BUCKS: Wildemore Farm, located in Chalfont, grows garlic and a variety of other vegetables.  Wildemore Farm also has pick-your-own apples, blueberries and raspberries.  You can also find them at the Doylestown Farmers’ Market.

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