Summer is officially over, Jules returned to work some time ago, and tonight we are having our first fire due to the cold which has closed in around us. The days here are still T-shirt weather, though sometimes a bit windy, but the nights are now down right chilly. It will probably be 40 degrees tonight and that is fire starting weather.
This can mean only one thing for the garden....well, this can actually mean a few things for the garden, but I'll focus on just one: Garlic. This is garlic planting weather! Garlic has some unusual requirements as growing goes. For one, it likes cold. Without at least days of cold temperatures (40-50 degrees), garlic will not germinate. The sustained cold weather in the winter is what also initiates the side bulbing of the garlic which eventually turn into the cloves. The shoots can still be eatten, and it still tastes of all that garlicy-goodness, just nothing under the ground but roots. The cold triggers the plant to begin stockpiling growth to make it through the season so it can grow again. Once the longer spring days come about, the bulbing is promoted and you have garlic by the summer harvest.
We don't plant any expensive, gourmet garlic; just the grocery store stuff for us. Even better, planting is as simple as separating a bulb up into cloves (plant the big ones) and putting them in the ground. No muss, no fuss, just done. Water occasionally, but it is the winter and that means rain here Garlic likes water. Weeding is helpful so they don't have to compete over the winter, but with a little mulch even that can be taken care of. Next year, just plant the leftover cloves you have from this year and there is no need to buy again.
Garlic prefers crumbly loam soil just like most root veggies. Since our backyard is not in any way perfectly arable, I double dig the garlic beds to provide a nice soft place for growth. Double digging is a bit of work, and you will definitely feel it the next day, but it is much cheaper than a gym membership.
To begin you mark off the bed in sections of about 18 inches wide - for a nine foot bed this would give you six sections.
Stand in section 2 and dig all of the dirt out of section one about 12 inches deep. Put it either in a large pile next to the bed or in a wheel barrow. Cover the exposed area of section one with compost and aerate the soil another 6 inches, thoroughly mixing the compost in. Now dig all of the dirt out of section 2 about 12 inches deep and dump it into section 1. This should yield section one now filled back up with dirt which is nice and loose, composted, aerated and all yummy for planting. Now be sure not to step in section one at all costs! You have just completed a very laborious task and would undo all your hard work with one misplaced foot.
Section 2 has just been cleared of all its dirt, now lay down a nice layer of compost and aerate the soil another 6 inches - thoroughly mixing in the compost. Step into section 3 and dig out all the dirt 12 inches deep and dump it into section 2. Section 2 is now done!
Section 3 has just been cleared of all its dirt so lay down the compost, aerate six inches deep and mix all the compost in. Step into section 4 and start diggin'. Dig out 12 inches of soil and dump it into section 3. Section 3 is now done. Are you noticing the pattern?
If you continue in this way - dig out 12 inches, place removed dirt on the previous section, layer compost, aerate 6 more inches, mix it all together, move on - you will methodically work your way through the entire bed. When you get to the point that all the dirt has been removed from section 6, it is composted, it is aerated, you just dump all the dirt you first took out of section one on top. All the soil is now back into the bed, just shifted around it. Consider double digging the musical chairs of the soil world.
The size of the garlic bulb is not only dependent on the nice fluffy soil, but also on the spacing. The closer your cloves, the smaller the bulbs will be. So, you will get more bulbs from your space, but fewer (or smaller) cloves. Fewer planted, larger bulbs. We tend to compromise and plant Biointensively. Doesn't that sound swanky!
All Biointensive gardening is, is planting with space in mind. Planting in the standard rows is used for most large corporate agriculture because they have the big fancy machines which need to get through the fields. No fancy machines here, just a small space. So instead of only planting three rows in our bed and having them all start in the same spot, we plant five rows and have them off set.To create this effect, begin 5 inches in from the sides of your bed and space your main three rows 10 inches apart. Follow these rows down the length of the bed, placing a garlic clove every 10 inches. (The blue ones. ) Now go back to the beginning of your bed and move 10 inches in on the sides still keeping your rows 10 inches apart. These will be your two offset rows. (The red ones.) Continue to place the cloves 10 inches apart for the entire length of the bed. Voila! Biointensive gardening! Now you can sound swanky too!
After some quick math in your head, you might realize these measurements don't add up nicely. This is because I allow for a two inch wiggle room for each clove. This way if it isn't in there exactly right it doesn't matter. The cloves in the offset rows are about 7 inches from their diagonal siblings and almost double the amount of garlic you can grow in the space.
With two beds like the one pictured above, we have just over 100 cloves of garlic planted. This gives us 8 heads a month or two bulbs a week. No vampires in this house!