One of my goals in writing this column has been to convince people who think they have a brown thumb that they really can grow their own food. I've never tried to put grocery stores out of business but to share my passion for vegetable gardening.
I had always assumed that one of the easiest projects a novice gardener could undertake would be growing garlic. It's fairly foolproof. According to my theory, a new gardener would gain confidence by having success at growing garlic and would then go on to growing more complicated vegetables.
When I talked about garlic with other gardeners, at all levels of experience, I ran into a surprising number of folks who had attempted to grow garlic and failed miserably. Even my brother-in-law, who is an otherwise accomplished gardener, grew rather testy even talking about it.
When I probed, I discovered that people who got bad results made at least one of two errors: planting grocery-store garlic and planting the crop in the spring.
The garlic we buy in supermarkets usually is treated with a chemical to discourage it from sprouting. While it may eventually send up a green shoot, it's not going to be able to produce more garlic.
If you want to plant supermarket garlic, make sure you buy certified organic, which guarantees that it has not been treated with a retardant.
For best results in this climate, garlic should be planted now and allowed to overwinter in the ground.
By planting now you'll also have the garlic in the ground when the ground warms in late winter and early spring and growth can resume. Like the onion, garlic is an allium and prefers to do much of its growing when it's not broiling hot outside. If you plant in the fall, you'll be digging fully developed heads by the end of June.
Garlic likes well-tilled soil. If you have a lot of clay in your garden, you might till sand into the dirt where you'll plant the garlic.
The garlic should be planted in a furrow about 2 inches deep. Break the heads of planting garlic into cloves and set each clove in the soil, with the pointed end up and root end down. Cloves should be at least 4 inches apart and the rows can be as close as 1 foot apart. If you are planting a number of rows, be sure to give yourself room to get into the patch to weed.
During the first few weeks, you'll need to water the garlic. Once the tops have poked a couple of inches out of the ground, begin mulching. By the time we are having nightly freezes, you should have 4 to 6 inches of mulch covering the garlic. Don't worry if the tips of the shoots poke out of the mulch and freeze.
If we get shorted on winter precipitation, you may need to water a time or two before spring, but the mulch will go a long way toward keeping the soil slightly moist. Once spring arrives, you'll need to begin watering, if rainfall isn't adequate. The mulch should help keep down the weeds.
But that's it. For the most part, garlic doesn't have pest problems or get diseases. It's simply a matter of putting the right stuff in the ground at the right time.