Garlic, harvested in June and smaller than usual, ready to plant in late October. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: October the best month to plant garlic

Last year I planted a third of the bed in September just for kicks, but I won’t do that again.

By Mary Lowther

Garlic adds richness to meals and given how easy it is to grow and how little watering, if any, is required, I grow some every year.

Larger bulbs develop when garlic goes in during the fall, but if the season has gotten away on the gardener, a planting in March will also produce a mid-July harvest, albeit the bulbs will be smaller. October plantings develop great root systems that survive the winter and provide pent up energy to burst through next spring to get a jump on the season. I base the rotation of my crops around the garlic bed since it’s occupied longer than any other bed — from late October to mid-July.

I’ve let the scapes grow on until after the harvest, but too many bulbs have opened up and they didn’t store well, so I’m going back to cutting the scapes when they start to shoot up. Scapes are the stalks that grow out of the middle around June and produce a flowering top. Author John Engeland found that garlic whose scapes were left on until a week or so before harvest, stored better over winter, so perhaps there’s a window of time between cutting the scapes too early with poorer storage but larger bulbs, and cutting too late that results in some bulbs opening up. Needs more study.

There are two kinds of garlic — softneck and hardneck. Softneck varieties don’t send up much of a stalk, if they even send one up, and consequently produce a large bulb that stores better than hardneck. They also have more cloves per bulb, but lack the rich flavour of the hardneck. I plant both varieties.

I also have thousands of tiny bulbs I grew from seeds and bulbils harvested three years ago and re-planted each year. Unfortunately I lost track of which was which so I have two boxes full of them all tossed in together. Professional gardeners would be appalled. I think I’ll plant a few of them this year beside my regular crop and use the rest as a cover crop.

Last year I planted a third of the bed in September just for kicks, but I won’t do that again. They went mouldy by mid-June while the later-planted garlic were still growing. I yanked them all out despite the small size of the later planting because I’ve seen garlic mould march right from one garden to another at an allotment garden. Perhaps it was our long, cool and damp spring that encouraged the mould, but I intend to plant all of this year’s crop in late October.

Don’t break up the bulbs until you’re ready to plant and treat them gently so they don’t bruise. I space them six inches apart and as deep as my finger will go, oriented with the pointy, stalk side up and the flat, root side down so the garlic doesn’t expend extra energy sending its roots down and the stalk up. It pays to check them for a couple of weeks to see if the birds have pulled any out, then one can just replant them and blow raspberries at the birds.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.


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