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A Garlic Testament
Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm


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Cultivation

Soil Preparation: Garlic will tolerate a wide range of soils but prefers a free-draining loam high in organic matter. If well-rotted manure is not available then a generous application of a general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore should be raked in immediately prior to planting.This should be followed by two further applications of nitrogen (as ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulphate, urea, etc.) in April and May, applied between the rows at a rate equivalent to 15-20 grams of nitrogen per square metre.

Planting: Ideally, garlic should be planted between mid-September through to early November although planting can be left until spring if you are prepared to accept a lower yield. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves just prior to planting and space them at 10 cm in rows about 30 cm apart. Plant them base down so that there is about 50 - 70 mm soil over the top of the cloves and lightly firm the soil with the back of a spade. In milder districts no winter protection is necessary but those areas exposed to heavy frosts will benefit from a winter mulch of straw or fleece. If you do plant in spring remember that garlic requires a month or so of low temperatures in order to bulb up properly so store bulbs in a frost-free shed rather than a warm boiler room!

Irrigation: During the growing season it is important that the plants have adequate moisture. From March onwards the soil should be checked regularly and watered as necessary. Always water in the morning to allow foliage to dry out before nightfall in order to reduce the likelihood of disease. If drought occurs during the bulbing period yields will suffer and remember to stop watering once bulbing has finished to prevent bulb rot.


Garlic Scapes


Developing Bulbils

Cultivation: All hardneck and some softneck plants will produce a false seedstalk topped by an umbel containing numerous small bulbils. Although opinions differ about seedstalk removal, it is generally believed that bulb yields are higher from plants that have had seedstalks removed than from those left intact. Stalks should not be removed too soon, it is best to wait until the seedhead begins to coil before cutting it off cleanly with a knife as low down the plant as possible. Of course plants can be left intact and bulbils left to form. The bulbils look and taste just like miniature garlic cloves and if planted will germinate and form a `round' or single clove bulb in their first year. The following year these 'rounds' will develop into normal, segmented bulbs which can be harvested in the normal way. Some varieties have a tendency to produce bulbils in the neck of the flower stalk but the bulbils will still mature and can be used in the same way. It is worth noting that the larger bulbils (and small, unusable cloves) can be planted and used to produce what are called `garlic greens' (USA) or `spring garlic' (Spain). Simply plant whatever you have in a dense seedbed and keep well watered. The young plants soon have the appearance of spring onions and can be harvested for use in salads, stir-fries and pesto and can be chopped and sprinkled on soups, potatoes, casseroles, etc. This is an ideal crop for year-round production under glass.

Bulbils forming in the stalk
 
Weed Control: Garlic is a shallow-rooted plant and as such tends to be a very poor competitor against weeds. Weed control is essential for good crop development and while a number of selective herbicides are available commercially the only viable option for most gardeners is regular hoeing and hand-weeding. Allen Don has published details of a garlic weeding spade and hand hoe - both of which aim to make the task of weeding as painless as possible!

Diseases: Botrytis Neck Rot, Blue Mould (Penicillium) and Fusarium Base Rot can cause significant losses in both growing and stored bulbs. Land infected by White Rot - a potentially devastating disease of garlic - can take over twenty years to clear, so a five year cycle of crop rotation with unrelated vegetables such as beans, peas, carrots, cabbage or potatoes should, wherever possible, be used. Avoid rotating with related crops such as onions, shallots or leeks. Take care with watering - avoid over-watering particularly late in the day and stop watering once bulbing has finished. Leaf Rust is another disease, typically associated with leeks, that can cause significant losses in garlic. Rust infection is promoted by low light and high moisture levels so avoid shade and maintain close attention to watering. Infected plants should be treated immediately either by removal & burning or by spraying with an appropriate fungicide.


 

 

 

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