Yarb Tales - Garlic Planting
November 7, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with colors, textures and sweet and pungent aromas. With their natural display, the herbs help us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

This week, November 7 through 12, the gardening moon phase is the second quarter, going into a super full moon on Monday, November 14. We will be gardening in the dark of the moon, a time to kill plant pests and weeds in barren signs and to plant perennials and hardy annuals that are grown for their underground parts in fertile signs. We have both fertile and barren work days this week. Wednesday will be in the fertile sign of Pisces and we start out in Aquarius and end in Aries, both barren signs.

If the weather cooperates, garden rows can be prepared for planting garlic on Wednesday. As always, if  we have to adjust our planned activities for conditions, we will do so. We work with natural rhythms in the garden whenever possible.

Garlic, Allium sativum, is a lily family member. It is divided into two subspecies, softneck garlic (A. sativum L. var. sativum) and hardneck garlic (A. sativum L. var. ophioscorodon). Softneck garlic is the type found in garlic braids and in the produce section of the grocery store. It does not produce a hard flower stalk, is medium in flavor and has a long shelf life. Hardneck garlic is more flavorful, though has a shorter shelf life than the softneck. The "hard neck" is a flower stalk called a scape. It produces bulbils at the top. These bulbils, if allowed to develop naturally, fall to the ground and sprout new garlic that will take two years to produce a full-sized garlic bulb. You can grow garlic by planting the cloves, separated from the bulb, during the fall, preferably during October, November and early December.

Already, the garlic bulbs that were not lifted this past summer have sprouted in clusters, like chives. They are beginning the process of dividing cells within each clove to produce a new bulb. These plants will produce very small bulbs because they don’t have the space to achieve their potential. Cooks like large bulbs with cloves that are easy to peel. This young garlic can be dug and eaten now and through early spring, like green onions. Alternatively, carefully lift, separate and replant these sprouts 6-inches apart, trimming foliage back to just a few inches if it is more than a few inches tall. They may be slightly stunted by this interruption in the growth cycle; however, the extra space for bulb growth makes it worth the trouble.

Prepare the garlic bed as you would for any food crop, in well-drained, loamy garden soil in a full-sun location. Here in the Ozarks, the soil should be amended with organic matter so that it will be more friable. This will help the roots grow faster and deeper into the surface of the soil structure where they will absorb minerals and have access to moisture during dry periods. We fertilize with a mixture of alfalfa pellets to provide green manure and trace elements; soft rock phosphate to help produce larger bulbs; a little sulfur, because garlic produces valuable sulfur compounds and greensand to add potash and improve drainage and moisture retentive qualities to the soil.

On planting day, separate the cloves from the bulb, being careful not to break off the root or bruise the cloves in the process. Discard moldy, discolored or soft cloves as these will not grow. Plant each clove flat-base, root-end down, pointed end up, 2-inches deep and spaced 6-inches apart.
Reduce weed competition with a light layer of straw mulch after the garlic sprouts. Irrigate during dry spells to keep the growth processes flowing. Some growers apply foliar fertilizer in early spring to increase vigor and bulb size. Garlic is a tough, adaptable plant. It will come through hard times even if you don’t pamper your crop.
While the leaves are growing and green aboveground, underground, the clove is growing roots and dividing into a new bulb. The cloves will continue to sprout leaves throughout the mild days of winter. Both hardneck and softneck garlic will be ready to dig in late May through early June. Harvest the garlic just before summer solstice when the green tops begin to yellow. The bulb will have stopped growing larger at this stage. Dig the garlic when about twenty percent of the leaves have turned yellow.

If you are planting garlic for the first time, you may be wondering where you can get some. While it may be possible to plant garlic purchased at the grocery store, know this; most commercial garlic is produced in distant California. According to ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Fayetteville, Arkansas), commercial garlic is treated with anti-sprouting agents before it is shipped. Why not grow the very best? Local farmers do grow garlic and theirs has already begun the process of adapting to our specific climate and soil. If you can, purchase locally-grown garlic. You can taste it for flavor. Garlic from local farmers is already familiar acclimated? with Arkansas soil and weather. Make it a point to visit the Stone County Farmers’ Market or your local farmers' market next June to buy garlic for eating and planting.

For other shopping sources, send a SASE to the Garlic Seed Foundation, Rose Valley Farm, Rose, NY 14542-1049. The Gourmet Garlic Gardens, 12300 FM, Bangs, TX 76823 or Filaree Garlic Farm, 83 Epley Road, Omak, WA, has great seed garlic or an online search results in a myriad of farms offering garlic for planting. Keep in mind that the closer the farm is to your garden, the better the garlic will perform. It takes approximately three years of growth and proper replanting for a garlic variety to adjust to a new region. This process is fun and introduces variety to our region. If the weather holds and mail order seed garlic is still available, set your sites for planting in early December when a great garlic planting moon will roll back around.

Keep on raking leaves, picking up acorns and weeding out those cool-season invaders that can be removed from around perennials now. Join me in enjoying the garden while temperatures are cooler and biting bugs are resting. If I don't see you in the future—I'll see you in the pasture.