The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has many fine programs around gardening that are well worth the time spent to attend.* Having recently gone to their workshop on raising garlic, I’d like to share a few tips I picked up. Growing garlic is easy, but there are a few things to know.
There are two types of garlic, soft neck and hard neck. Soft neck varieties grow in warmer climates and are what we normally find at the supermarket- not a good choice for us as we prefer the hundred-mile diet concept. Hard neck varieties thrive in our colder Maine climate.
The hard neck types produce both flowers and scapes. Scapes are long curly ends that form at the top of the plants. The scapes need to be cut off as they appear, usually sometime around June. This allows the plant's energy to focus on bulb growth instead of seed pods. The scapes are edible and can be a spicy addition to stir fries or salads.
Now, in mid-October is the time to plant garlic. The hard neck varieties require a 40 degree temperature for a couple of months. Planting now should result in a July crop.
Before planting it’s a good idea to do a soil check. Garlic loves good, composted soil with a ph between 6 & 7. A simple do-it-yourself soil test kit can evaluate your ph, although we prefer to send a sample to the Maine Soil Testing laboratory. This costs $15 and we get a lot of information besides the ph, such as the nutrient levels in the soil.
We have chosen to plant the variety, German Extra Hardy this year, and have prepared a raised bed for them. We had already mixed in some organic cow manure a couple of weeks ago, and now, on the day of planting are adding a layer of compost.
After you take apart the heads of garlic into the individual cloves, just stick them into the dirt with the root end (it’s the larger end) downwards. Make sure there is 2” of soil over them. If the cloves are planted too shallow, the garlic will freeze. If planted too deep the cloves will split and grow multiple tops. Plant the cloves about 6 inches apart.
After the ground freezes, cover the soil with about 6” of mulch. There are a number of options for mulch. We have plenty of deciduous trees so we'll rake some leaves onto the bed. In spring, when the tops begin to appear we'll remove some of the mulch. Don't remove it all or the tender white tops will be exposed to the sun.
It’s time to harvest garlic when the first few leaves start to yellow, and before the bulbs begin to separate. Allow the garlic to air dry in the shade- if you put them in the sun they can get scalded. Inside a shed or garage is usually a good place. When the stalks are dry, braid them or trim off the stalks and put the cloves in a mesh bag.
The final step is to use your home grown garlic in your favorite recipe. Bon appetite! G.H.
*University of Maine Cooperative Extension: http://extension.umaine.edu/