Advances in Gardening: The Trough of Garlic

Remember a while back I posted a picture of Erik in a manly pose, whomping our patio with his sledgehammer? He took out a strip of concrete and built this over the hole: a new planting bed.  That’s the Germinator on the right, butting up to it and my Fan behind it.  When we’re done with all this redoing, we’ll clean everything up and take some wider shots so it all begins to make sense. For now–believe me–it’s better to keep to limited views!

Right now,  as its name suggests, this new bed is planted with garlic–and a few shallots. Rather as I had with medicinal herbs, for years I’ve been tucking garlic in here and there all over the garden. And while that’s a fine strategy, especially if you believe in its use as a companion plant, it’s a real treat to be able to plant a ton of garlic all at once.

But this isn’t a dedicated garlic bed. Remember, in gardening, you have to keep your crops circulating. Repeated plantings of the same veggie in the same place is just begging for trouble. After the garlic harvest, we’ll add the bed to the rotational schedule. Perhaps next it will hold Swiss chard, or carrots. When you’re trying to rotate crops in a small yard, every new bed helps. Even small ones. This is one reason we squeezed this one out of our patio.

Note that like The Fan, The Trough is also covered with hoops and netting to keep skunks and squirrels (and chickens) out until the plants get established.

Grow Your Own!

If you haven’t grown garlic, it’s super easy. Just break up a head of garlic and plant the individual cloves pointy end up under an inch or so of soil, about six inches apart. You’ll want to use only big fat cloves, not those skinny ones that sit in toward the core.

You can use regular old organic garlic that you’d buy at the store or the farmers’ market. Some warn against this, saying the heads might be treated with anti-sprouting agents, but I’ve never had a problem. Diseases of different sorts may also be a problem, now that I think about it. And I don’t like to think about it, because I love shoving random garlic from my kitchen into the ground. It’s just plain fun. But if you plan ahead, you can order safe, untreated garlic from seed companies, and even better, you can choose from a wide variety of heirloom and gourmet varieties suited to you individual climate.

Too late for us this year, a friend gave us an enthusiastic recommendation: a variety called Music. Check it out. Perhaps we’ll plant this one next year.

Here in LA, we plant garlic in the fall, between Halloween and Thanksgiving for a spring harvest. You’ll have to check local wisdom to find out when you should plant yours, but we’ve heard that in cold winter climates you also plant garlic around this time–the only difference being that the bulbs overwinter under the snow and sprout in the spring. Ours are already sprouting, sped up, I think, by our insane hot/cold weather cycles this fall.

One last tip: garlic likes mulch. In the bed above, you’ll see the straw mulch covering most of it. The shallots are on the far, bare end. We’ve never grown them before, but apparently they don’t like mulch.  Everybody has to be a diva.

Should you really want to become a garlic expert, there’s a book on the subject: Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers.

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9 Comments

  1. Just planted mine in a new bed also So I can do a big rotation from my other ones: Siskiyou purple and Persian Star both from Seeds of Change. Have grown the Persian Star before. My garlic heads were getting smaller and smaller, so restarting the cycle with dedicated seed garlic. Also planting Shallots for the first time. I’ve never mulched. Maybe that’s why my garlic is getting smaller??Picture of the bed on my blog.

  2. I worked on an organic vegetable farm in Virginia that grew Music. It was such an incredible garlic that I bought four heads to give to my mother to start on her own property. This is the kind of garlic you can roast in the oven and spread on toast like butter. So tasty. I hope it grows well for you in California, whenever you get around to trying it!

  3. I buy my garlic from Harmony Farm Supply. I was unimpressed by the Musik – it seemed pretty single-note, like an amped-up California Early. I really liked the Nootka Rose and Korean Red, which were much more nuanced.

    I had ordered a bunch of varieties and, after we grew them out, had a tasting. I mashed up the garlic into mashed potatoes (other people use beans, but I find the beans add too much of their own flavor). The Nootka Rose won by a mile. Maybe I should have tried roasting the Musik.

  4. I’d like to second mjlai’s recommendation of gourmet garlics. They have area-specific and taste-specific recommendations. In addition somewhere on their webpage (worst layout Ever, so you have to hunt) they’ve got a protocol for pre-soaking to avoid transferring disease. That makes it a little less worrisome to save your own cloves, whether or not you’re buying through them. http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/growing.htm

    And I’ve got to second SFValues take on Music. I don’t understand why it’s the new big thing. Maybe people are raving about it because they like the name? It tastes like nothing, with a kick. If you like mild garlic, you won’t like it ’cause of the kick. If you like strong garlic, you won’t like it because it otherwise doesn’t taste like garlic. It’s at the top of my list of most disappointing garlic varieties ever.

  5. In 3 years of planting garlic, I’ve never had troubles growing from cloves bought at the store and the farmers market.

    Even though the sample size is pretty small, my store garlic vs “planting” garlic has shown no discernable difference.

    • I’d agree with you there. We’ve done both, too. Erik’s got some fancy garlic in right now, just finishing up– some rare kind. So that’s exciting. But it’s all garlic, you know?

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