Planting garlic

As the growing season winds down, we’re already getting started on next year. This is the season for garlic planting, beginning the long, slow period of growth until it’s finally harvested next summer. We’re once more expanding our plantings, this time adding a block of beds in the main field as well as our usual amount in the market garden.
Garlic planting starts with fertility. We use goat manure, produced by some friends’ herd just north of us. They’ve been raising goats for over 20 years, mucking out their barn every spring, and leaving a huge and always-growing pile of old/rotted manure ready for us to mine. The pile is out of reach behind a barn, so we use a cycle of wheelbarrows, Joanna regularly filling each one as I shuttle them back and forth between the pile and up a plank to be dumped into the truck. Back at our place, the process is reversed as we offload into the wheelbarrow and cart the manure to each destination bed.
Each market garden bed got two barrow-loads, which are then worked into the soil with a hoe and rake. We’ll be doing this not just for garlic, but for much of the garden and field. This old, rotted manure is fantastic stuff and well-worth the effort. It’s clean, comes from a known source, and is free except for labor. We’d much rather expend energy than money; as I’ve often said, we run on home-grown fuel.
Organic standards state that manure can only be added to soil 90-120 days before harvest, depending on whether the crop touches the group (like corn vs. radishes), so doing most of our fertility management in the fall gives plenty of time to stay within that regulation and allow the resident soil biota to digest and distribute the stuff. Working it into the soil also helps minimize rain effects that might wash manure out of the beds, as does always using mulch and/or cover crop to hold soil in place. These practices are mandated by NOP, but are also just smart farming.
When the manure is worked in (bottom bed, below), each bed is trenched with a hoe into four linear rows (middle bed), and garlic cloves pushed into the bottom of the trenches at 6″ spacing. Every year we move toward saving more of our own garlic for replanting, this year a majority of garlic planted is our own, and the quality was easily equal to our purchased stock. We’re very happy with that, and it saves us a significant amount of money while helping adapt our garlic to our specific growing conditions. Overall, around 120 cloves go into each of the 8 market garden beds, and around 160 into each field bed, each of which ought to become a nice head next summer. The projected yield here would be around 1900 heads, minus any losses or problem heads. After the garlic is planted, we pull soil back over the trenches, then add a thick layer of straw mulch (top bed).
This year, the weather made things interesting. It’s been wet enough to make hauling manure and working soil difficult, so we’ve been eyeing conditions to get the best chance. With a dry, warm forecast for last Sunday-Tuesday, we took our chance and started hauling manure on Monday, bringing in four truckloads to cover all 8 market garden beds and 6 larger field beds, and working most of it into the soil. Though we expected Tuesday to be another sunny, dry day, conditions changed overnight and we rose to impending thunder and rain, which washed out any plans of planting for the morning. We didn’t end up starting planting until later afternoon, and worked until dark to get most of the market garden planted. Wednesday I had to be away in town on various appointments and errands, so Joanna worked to prepare the rest of the field beds, and when I got home after 3 we got right to and once again worked until dark, knowing that heavy rain was in the forecast for Thursday. We were able to get all but one market garden bed and two field beds planted by last night. Today, as I write this, the steady rain eliminates any chance of further garlic work until sometime next week at least.
Rain is a problem for multiple reasons, least of which is comfort. It’s difficult and problematic to work wet soil, as that compacts and destroys the soil’s natural texture. Too much rain can cause rot, or wash out some manure. And we can’t easily plant garlic in the rain, because not all heads and cloves are planted at once, and any reserved stock would get wet, ruining its quality. But we managed to get most of it in, covered, and planted.
So a majority of our crop is in, and we hope to have another few days of dry weather to get the rest in. Garlic can be planted through November, but we like ours to have a good start and mid-October works well for us. So we don’t want to delay longer than we have to. Hopefully it doesn’t rain too much more, or there’s a real threat of the cloves rotting before they can properly get started.

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