October is for Garlic

For planting garlic, that is. You can eat it anytime.

 By Kathryn Pankowski

Part of the 2019 garlic harvest. Cloves from the best heads will get planted this month for next year’s crop.. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski.

Part of the 2019 garlic harvest. Cloves from the best heads will get planted this month for next year’s crop.. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski.

Planting in October gives the clove the whole rainy season to grow a handsome set of roots, so it will be ready to leap into action in spring and be able to tolerate dry spells better – all of which makes it more likely to eventually develop a fine fat head, which, in the case of garlic – unlike humans - is a good thing.

Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow – perfect for slothful and forgetful gardeners. All you have to do is top up an existing sunny patch of the garden with a layer of compost or other organic matter and buy some ‘seed garlic’, preferably locally grown, so that you know it’s a type that will do well in our climate. (Tip for beginners: ‘Seed garlic’ isn’t seed, but full heads of garlic, sold specifically for planting.)

To plant, gently separate the head into individual cloves, trying to leave as much as possible of the papery husk intact. Poke holes in the garden bed, drop a clove in each (pointy end up!), and cover with a few centimetres of soil. Then ignore them until the weather begins to have dry patches, when you may need to water.

There are two main classes of garlic: hardneck and softneck. In late spring, hardneck garlic will grow a scape, which looks like a bloom stalk and twists and curls in an entertaining fashion. (In fact, there’s a particularly twisty form that’s sold for use in flower beds.) If your aim is a large head of garlic, be ruthless and cut off the scape so the plant puts more energy into the head. If you nip off the scape when it’s young and tender, it’s a bonus crop – a mildly garlic green you can use raw.

About June or July the leaves will begin to get brown tips – this is perfectly normal, so don’t panic. When three lower leaves have dried up completely, gently pull or lift the garlic, shake off as much dirt as possible, and lay the whole plant out in a cool shady spot for two weeks or so to let it dry a bit before storage. Then you can trim the roots and tops, brush off the remaining dirt and – voila – a whole new head of garlic from one clove, just like magic. Save the biggest and best for replanting and munch the rest.

My only serious garlic pest is the racoons next door, who seem to have a mad fondness for the stuff. As soon as it’s planted, they dig it up, eat the cloves, and leave a scattering of empty papery husks behind. I have now (probably only temporarily) outwitted them by covering new plantings with metal mesh for a few months.

A more common problem for garlic growers is allium rust, a fungal disease that affects leeks, garlics, and onions, covering the leaves with what look like rust spots and, in severe cases, killing them altogether. Keep an eye out for the tell-tale orange freckles in spring and, if you spot them, start reading up on how to reduce the severity of the attack. You’ll probably still be able to get a perfectly edible head of garlic, even if the leaves look like something from a horror story.

 Neighbourhood Garden News

If you are thinking about gardening on a boulevard, there’s a free hands-on workshop coming up, making and planting a new boulevard garden on Michigan Street. Learn how to create a planting area and the guidelines you need to follow. Tentatively scheduled for Sunday, October 27. For more information or to put your name on the participant list, email Alex Harned, Food Systems Coordinator for the City of Victoria at aharned@victoria.ca.

And if you have been plagued the last few years with little worms munching the dickens out of your fruit (and other) tree leaves in the spring, the City is offering a workshop to show you how to control winter moth (the culprit!) by tree banding in the fall. Your choice of Wednesday, October 23 or Saturday, October 26, both at the Crystal Pool, 10-12. Free, no registration required.

If you are thinking about planting a tree, or just enjoy learning about them, a City arborist will give a guided tour of rare and interesting trees in Ross Bay Cemetery on Wed, October 16, 10-11:30. Free, no registration required, meet at the May and Memorial Street entrance.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at jamesbaygardens@gmail.com. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

Don't Part Here!

Don't Part Here!

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