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Stepping Through the Seasons - Part 1

Soil Preparation – if possible prepare the planting area one year ahead, if not, then prepare in the spring.  Garlic needs a loose soil so that roots can penetrate deep for nutrients and water.  Soil amendments such as year-old manure and compost can be dug in at this time into the top 4-5” of soil and then a green manure (buckwheat) can be sown in and turned into the soil when mature.  If time allows, a second sowing of green manure can be applied before planting the garlic in the fall.  The photo at right is of a test plot in the Minden area – note green manure (buckwheat) in left bed, right hand bed ready for sowing.

Planting – takes place from middle October through to early November.  A good sunny location is needed.  Raised beds are preferable, 3-4’ wide for easy access, variable lengths to suit individual needs, cloves are planted 5-6” apart with 8” between rows.  Rows should be north and south, which allows full benefit of the sun’s movement during the day.  Bulbs should not be broken apart until just before planting, otherwise the cloves will dry out.  Cloves are planted with the point up and at a depth of 3” to bottom of hole and cover with 2” of soil.

An example of a planting technique.

After a good frost and before the ground freezes it is recommended that you apply a loose mulch.  At least 4” of mulch is needed (6” is preferable).  Spoiled hay, leaves, straw, peat moss or grass clippings can be used.  Spoiled hay is recommended.  Straw takes nitrogen out of the soil to break down; grass clippings tend to pack down and many people still use chemicals/pesticides on their lawn for weed and insect control.  Garlic is now ready for the winter season.


Here is a photo where spoiled hay has been used as a mulch

Should there be a long mild fall and even into the early winter the mulch applied will protect the garlic from heaving soil through any freezing and thawing cycles.  Should the garlic sprout through the mulch before a deep freeze sets in just add more mulch.  Garlic will be fine.

Spring/ Early Summer – As the snow cover clears watch for the first growth of garlic.  It will push through the mulch showing a fresh green growth.   Check for missing plants, you may need to carefully remove excess mulch where you believe a plant should be.  Sometimes it needs a little help through the mulch.

             First growth peeking through!

During this time of year garlic requires maintenance.  Keep the weeds down.  Garlic will not tolerate weeds and may require some watering if insufficient rainfall.  Garlic needs about 1” rain weekly.  Notice how mulching helps to keep weeds down.

Mulching helps to keep weeds down and provides moisture control

Scaping – there are two main types of garlic.  Hardneck and Softneck.  Hardneck garlic produces scapes in early summer.

For some of you who are growing garlic for the first time then this is another step in the growing of garlic.  For you regular garlic growers - reminder for you.

Scapes only form on hardneck varieties.  They need to be removed so that the plant can concentrate its energy to bulb formation, therefore producing a larger bulb.

Scapes are a delicious part of the plant.  By harvesting them at the right time you can enjoy them in many ways.  They can be added to salads, stir-fry, soups, just use your imagination.  Once you experience the taste you will be seeking more uses for the scapes.  

When is the right time to remove the scape?   When the scape has formed the first curl this is the optimum time.  Just grasp the stem between thumb and forefinger about half inch from where it emerges from the top of the leaves and remove it with a light snap.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                              First curl...!

When the scape is into its second curl it is still edible.  Once it starts to straighten up it becomes brittle and inedible.  You will find that not all plants scape at the same time so you need to be vigilant and check the plants daily.

By snapping the scapes to remove them there is less chance of damaging the plants.  When cutting them there is always the possibility that a leaf/leaves maybe removed in the process.  Removing just one leaf robs the bulb of the stored energy it contains and results in a smaller bulb.

Scapes are becoming popular at local farmer markets as people becoming more aware of them.  If you have a large number available then this can be another sale for you.  For those of you who are just growing for yourself then they can be refrigerated for up to three months in an aerated plastic bag or cut up and frozen for a year.

It is recommended that you leave a few (depending on number you grow) to allow the scape to continue to grow and develop the bulbil cluster.  Reproducing garlic from bulbils as well as the cloves.

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Scape Dip Recipe

 – courtesy of Gail Grainger;
from “More Recipes & Tips for Garlic Lovers"

2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups sour cream
8-10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
3 tbsp dill weed
4 tbsp white vinegar

Mix all ingredients together.
If dip is too thick, add milk.