Submitted by Sue Meany - October 2020
It’s time to plant alliums to harvest in the spring! Kent and I both enjoy growing and cooking with both garlic and shallots. Tradition dictates that the appropriate time to plant these bulbs is between Halloween and Thanksgiving while more recent studies indicate that the planting time can be moved into early October if the soil is mulched heavily, 6 inches or so. Hard neck varieties grow best in our planting area (6a). Soft neck garlic is generally not hardy enough to grow successfully here. We recently purchased three new garlic varieties: Music, German Extra Hardy, and Chesnok Red from Hudson Valley Seed Co. We saved bulbs from last year’s harvest of Siberian and Polish Hardnecks. Alliums prefer well drained soil in a sunny area. Be sure not to grow alliums where they were planted last year. Planting garlic is relatively simple:
Add compost to the prepared beds. If you have raised beds, use them. (we are proponents of no till gardening whenever possible)
Separate the cloves from the heads of garlic.
Plant the cloves 4” to 6” apart, and push each clove with the pointed end up and the blunt end down approximately 1” to 2” deep. Fill in the holes and firm the soil.
Water the area thoroughly. Water when soil dries out.
Spread 3” to 6” of salt hay or other mulch to cover the planting area. Note: Salt hay does not have viable seeds and will not sprout in the soil.
In several weeks if you carefully look under the mulch, you will begin to see green shoots sprouting. It is important that the green sprouts remain covered by mulch throughout the winter as winds can wick out moist and desiccate the cloves. In spring, when the weather warms, much of the mulch can be removed and used for some other purpose. Leaving and inch or two of mulch will aid in weed suppression. Garlic likes the soil to remain moist but make sure it is not soggy.
In approximately June, the plants will send up a curled sprout with a pointed top known as a scape. The scapes will take energy from the developing bulbs and so should be removed once the seed head forms (the seeds are not viable). But do not discard them as they are a yummy treat! The tender portion of the neck of the scape can be sautéed in butter or olive oil, made into pesto or pureed.
In July, when a few of the lower leaves turn brown, remove any remaining mulch to allow the soil to begin to dry out. When approximately half of the leaves have turned brown, dig and prepare for curing.
After harvesting the garlic and shallots, hang each variety in smallish bunches in a warm, dry location out of direct sunlight to cure them. We suspend them underneath the roof our gazebo, but a porch or other covered area will serve you well. Once necks and outer skins are completely dry, they are cured. This can take two weeks or even more depending on temperature and humidity. Clip the necks off leaving about ½-1 inch of the neck intact. At this time, also remove the roots from the bottom of the bulb. Use any damaged bulbs in cooking and store the rest in a dark and dry location, providing plenty of air flow. We place them in net bags and hang them in our basement which is equipped with a dehumidifier, but somewhere even cooler which does not freeze would be ideal. The garlic will store for 4-6 months before beginning to sprout. Be sure to save the biggest cloves for next year’s crop. Bigger cloves grow bigger heads!
We also purchased Dutch Red Shallot bulbs to plant in the fall which we will harvest in early summer. The process of planting the shallots is similar to that of the garlic. Make sure to mulch them as well. Like other bulbing onions, they should be harvested when the green shoots fall down, usually in July.
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