Growing Garlic

The nitty-gritty – spring and summer

So, you got your garlic into the ground back in October and now you are watching the snow fall. Like all gardeners and farmers, you are probably waiting for spring, dreaming of what you will plant while you peruse the new seed catalogues and seed company websites. And like all who grow garlic in these parts, you wait for the delight of watching those lovely shoots poking out first thing in the spring.

The leaves are poking out of the ground – now what?

First job in the spring is to give your garlic crop some nourishment. The new plants will benefit from a dose of a light nitrogen fertilizer (remember the first number denotes the nitrogen). Use a fertilizer that has a fairly balanced formula; for example a 4-4-4 formula fertilizer. This first spring fertilizing should be done as soon as you are able to get into the garden as the garlic is starting to grow. Remember that your garlic has been growing since the fall, unlike other vegetables that will be seeded or transplanted in the spring. The garlic needs the boost you give it now to develop a strong stem and leaves to nourish the bulb and give you big healthy bulbs come harvest.

Water/weeds and fertilizer

While garlic does not like to have wet feet it does require regular watering if there is not adequate rain. The common wisdom is that it should have an inch of water per week. This will have to be adjusted according to your garden soil conditions. A heavier clay soil holds water longer, so you may not need to water as much or as often. A very sandy soil will not retain the water as well, so you may have to water more often. If you aren’t sure if the garlic needs watering, simply scratch a hole about an inch or two into the soil and check the condition. You want the soil at the root level to have the water the plant needs. Another indicator to watch for is the tips of the leaves. Browning tips early in the season and up to a couple of weeks before harvest means there is not enough water. Pale yellow tips indicate too much water – your garlic is drowning! Be sure that the garlic bed does not dry out – drought conditions in the garden means that your garlic is not growing and will begin to die down before it has matured enough to harvest.

Weeds are competition, and garlic does not like the competition. Besides, weeds take up the moisture and nutrients your garlic needs to develop nice robust heads for harvest. Take the time to weed the garlic bed on a regular basis and you will be rewarded with a much better crop.

A second fertilizing with a slightly higher nitrogen content fertilizer (a 12-8-6 formula for example) around the end of May will also give your garlic what it needs to continue to grow well and produce a good harvest.

Scapes and what to do with them

Sometime around mid-June, or perhaps later, scapes will begin to appear. Scapes are basically the flower stem that emerges from the middle of the leaves. It is a solid, round stem that grows up and develops a curl. Some cultivars will have a double curl at the end of the scape while others will simply have an inverted U shape. At the end of the scape will be an umbel or bulbil capsule enclosed in a green sheath. At this point, while the scapes are still curled, they should be removed in order to enable the plant to put all its energy into developing a nice sized bulb. Only leave scapes on the plant to mature if you want to multiply your garlic using the bulbil method, which will be described in a later post. The scapes are easy to snap off at this stage. Simply grasp it between the thumb and forefinger near the top leaves and snap it off. If the scapes have matured a bit too much and won’t snap off at that point, simply move a bit higher along the stem and try again until it snaps off readily.

What do you do with the scapes after they’ve been removed? Keep them! They are a valuable part of the garlic harvest.

Watch for more information on growing garlic – using scapes, planting bulbils, harvesting, curing, storing your crop.

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