Garlic for Joy: how to plant garlic, and why you should

 

organic garlic harvest

Some things need the cold.

They rely on a long period of darkness before they send up their sprout.  Garlic is one of these.  Planted in late autumn, it grows just enough to root into the soil, but stops after that, going into winter dormancy.

Here in Central Vermont, where we grow in zone 4b, we plant garlic anytime in the last two weeks of October.  If you’re in a warmer zone, or if it’s a particularly mild fall, you can plant a bit later.  {Find your growing zone here}

On Monday, I declared this a week of joy, and garlic plays a lead role when it comes to growing joy.

Even before it sizzles in olive oil on the kitchen stove, filling the house with the most comforting smell, garlic piques so much wonder.  Think about it: a tender clove being tucked three inches into cold soil, blanketed only with straw.  It waits all winter, through deep freezes and whipping wind, freezing rain and snow, and then come spring, it wakes up.  Before anything else is even planted in the garden, green garlic shoots sprout through the soil.

Each clove holds patience and wonder and the ordinary miracle of growth.  

Now, at the end of autumn, as we put the rest of the garden to bed, garlic gives me the opportunity to plant one more time before winter.  It’s always cold as I poke each clove into the soil, but I find joy nonetheless.  Unlike the garlic, I know I’ll be going inside for a cup of tea.  Like the garlic, though, I prepare for winter.  The days get shorter, the dark stretches into morning, and the quiet landscape hushes my own thoughts, inviting me into silence.

And all through winter, I eat the summer’s garlic harvest.  Sautéing it for soups and stir-fries, roasting it with roots, even decocting it for a healing tea when winter colds set in.

More than any other crop, garlic teaches me patience.  It shows me how to root in for the long haul, and how to wake up.  It shows me that it’s possible to grow again, no matter what changes above the surface.  And from all this sprouts a deep-rooted joy.

organic garlic seed

spanish roja seed garlic

My favorite garlic varieties are German white and Spanish roja.

Both are hardneck varieties, which are hardier and have larger cloves than softneck varieties.  German white has 4-6 big cloves per bulb, which I love for processing (it’s so much easier to deal with a handful of big cloves than having to peel lots of little ones).  Spanish roja has a 6-8 mid-sized cloves per bulb, and can store into early spring.

How to plant garlic:

broadforking the garlic beds

broadforking the garlic beds

1. Prepare your garden bed by loosening the soil with a digging fork or broad fork, then rake smooth.

2. Plant individual cloves root-side down, three-inches deep, and six-inches apart.

3. Cover with 6″ organic straw or leaves.

4. Wait until spring!

Come spring, when the snow is gone and first garlic shoots are up about 6″, pull off the mulch and weed the bed.  Add some compost and leave the mulch in the pathways, where it will keep weeds down.


Tell me, what have you learned from the crops you grow?  What planting (or harvest) brings you the most joy?

 

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