Dig. Drop. Done.
Are you looking for a new crop to try this year? Consider garlic, the stinking rose! Planting hardneck garlic in the fall will actually provide you with two different crops in early and mid summer: the first is garlic scapes and the second is garlic bulbs. It then frees up a garden space just about when it is time to start planting fall crops such as peas and spinach.
The best location for a garlic is loosened, well-composted, and well-drained soil in a sunny location. Do not choose garlic bulbs from the grocery store for planting as these sometimes are bleached. Choose good quality seed garlic from your favorite nursery, Rolling Green of course, or your organic farm stand. Separate each bulb into the individual cloves and plant pointed side up 1-2″ deep, 5-6″ apart anytime from September to November, before the ground freezes.
To help protect garlic in the winter and prevent weeds in the fall, layer with a good 2″ layer of salt marsh hay or other weed-seed-free mulch. You may see garlic begin to grow in the fall, but do not worry. It is simply setting in roots, and will naturally die back in the cold of winter. You will see it reappear in the spring when the soil reaches growing temperature. Do not remove the mulch layer! Garlic will grow through it and the weed seeds in the soil will remain shaded. Garlic does not grow well with weeds so if you see any weeds pop up in the bed, remove them. Water garlic regularly if no natural, deep rain water is occurring.
Garlic is a heavy feeder and should be fertilized at the time of planting. In general it is best to use a low nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to promote root development and then use a fertilizer with a little higher nitrogen level, like blood meal, when you first see it sprouting in the spring followed by a bigger dose of nitrogen when they are a foot high. Then stop feeding so that the plant puts its energy into feeding the bulb and not the leaves.
If you are in desperate need of garlic for a recipe in May of June, go ahead and pull a ‘green’ bulb to use! Green garlic will have a less intense garlic flavor and the whole plant, from bulb to stalk to leaf is edible.
Cut garlic scapes in June when you see them curl from the middle and use them in sauces and for amazing garlic scape pesto. In July, when you begin to see 4 or more leaves dying back, gently loosen and lift the soil low below them with a large shovel or fork, taking care not to dig and accidentally cut into the plant (you will find the bulbs have worked themselves deeply into the soil).
Let the bulbs cure in a cool dry place, trim the leaves off, clean by pulling off the outside white ‘wrapper’ that is dirty, then store for up to 6 months in a cool-ventilated location.