A friend of ours has a wonderful poster hanging in their kitchen, a relic from the '70's-- a large head of garlic, with the title Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers. I love that, and I think it is so true. Garlic can season our food and help boost immune systems. And it is easy to grow!
Fall is the time to plant garlic- we harvest and prepare bulbs for sale in September; the optimum time to plant cloves is in October after the first light frost. We love both regular and elephant garlic.
Garlic prefers loose and rich soil with lots of organic matter, which drains well. When you are ready to plant, separate the bulbs from each other, leaving the outer skin on, planting the root end down at about 7" apart. Cover with 2" of soil and a 6" layer of mulch such as grass clippings or leaves. Leave the mulch intact into the spring as it will help to control the weeds.
As the cloves begin to sprout in the spring, do not worry about chill or frost-- they are quite hardy and can handle the weather. A fertilizer can be useful up to May 15, but do not feed them after May 15 as it can be detrimental. Garlic needs about 1" of water per week during the growing season, but do not water after June 1 to allow the bulbs to grow better. Keep the beds weeded around the garlic to eliminate competition.
As they grow, trim the 'scapes' after the 10" long to keep the growing energy in the bulbs-- and use the scapes in soups and stir fries. After leaf die-back, harvest the bulbs, sometime in June or early July. Do not leave them too long as the bulbs will separate in the ground.
Dig the garlic carefully, do not wash but gently brush the dirt off, and do not let them bruise. Bring them in from the sun immediately, and bundle 6-10 plants in a bundle to hang from the ceiling of the garage or shed. Leave them for 4-6 weeks to dry. After they are dried, trim the stalks to store in net bags, preferably hanging in temperatures between 50-70 degrees.
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Cover Crop Season is here!
Fall cover crops improve soil, and can provide a winter bounty.
Through Fall and Winter, while your garden beds may not be planted with over-winter veggies, they can still be working to repair and replenish for next spring and summers harvests. Planting cover crops, such as grains and nitrogen fixing legumes, can work miracles on the soil, and can reduce your need for extra nitrogen fertilizer and compost. A cover crop reduces erosion, loosens compacted soil, improves nutrients and attracts beneficial insects. There is a large selection of fall cover crops for a broad range of needs.
Some of the most common cover crops used in this area as a winter cover is Winter Rye and Austrian Winter Peas (AWP) or Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch. The grain provides a structure for the peas or vetch to grow up into. The legumes provide nitrogen. AWP produce an edible pea shoot in the late winter to early spring that can be eaten or sold at market. Hairy Vetch produces a beautiful flower that attracts beneficial insects. Care should be taken with Hairy Vetch as the seed will ripen and can re-grow in areas were you may not want it. We enjoy having the Vetch growing up our deer fencing that surrounds our gardens, producing purple flowers that bees love. We also recommend using a variety of other cover crops mixed in any proportion throughout your winter covers. Yellow mustard can be planted in late fall and act as a soil fumigant. Tillage radish produces a large deep root that helps to break up heavy clay soils. Any of the clovers are excellent nitrogen fixers and are great as a plowdown type cover, or can be used long term for areas you are not planting your garden in for awhile. If you are not able to plow your Rye and AWP down with some tillage equipment in the spring after mowing, then you may want to consider planting cover crops such as Spring Oats or Barley; these grains tend to die at about 13 degrees F, making it easier to work up your soil in the spring.
A cover crop works for you all Fall and Winter, with little effort on your part, improving the soil and your garden for the long run!