Claudia McCarthy is the former Westminster Center School parent I think of when it’s time to plant garlic. I learned about this time honored planting tradition from her. I hope I haven’t made too many mistakes. (It’s been a few years since her sons were part of our garden program. They’re in college and beyond now.) Claudia and her husband, Ian Conway, hosted great garlic festivals at their home every fall. The price of admission was a garlic dish. I remember that garlic ice cream was a big hit one year.
When Claudia came to plant garlic with my class, she requested 25 gallons of composted horse manure. There is less seed (weed) potential in horse manure; I’ve learned since then that rabbit is the optimal manure for growing garlic…..no seed at all in pellet fed rabbit poop. There are plenty of horse owners in our area who LOVE to have someone cart away a few bags of old horse manure.
Claudia would bring five or six students at a time out to the garlic bed site. The first group would turn over the soil with pitchforks and shovels.
The next group would scatter the manure over a 20 x 4 foot bed. After the manure was turned into the soil, the children made a “chocolate cake’ out of the bed, building up the sides and making a little plateau on the top. Here are some of my After School Program students doing the same thing a few days ago:
What is a garlic clove? It’s one section of the bulb of garlic that you buy from the market. Bulbs must be separated and each clove is planted individually, 6 inches from the others. We leave ours uncovered in the earth until all the cloves are planted so we don’t miss any spaces.
Get your garlic for planting from someone who has a few bulbs left over from their own successful garlic crop OR find a commercial source.
Once the cloves are planted and covered with soil, a thin layer of mulch straw (not hay; there are fewer seeds in straw) is scattered on the “chocolate plateau cake.” I know our bed doesn’t begin to look like Claudia’s did many years ago, but we’re hoping for a good crop next July.
Garlic is one of those bulb crops that needs to overwinter. It may begin to show a few green shoots before the snow flies. I hope not. It’s better off snoozing for a while under the snow and then sprouting in the spring. When it first sends curly flower buds (scapes) into the air, cut them off and make your first pesto with them and a little olive oil! This pruning will give energy back to the growing bulbs. The bulbs will be ready to harvest in mid-July. I hope these same children will harvest them with me during Westminster Summer Camp….more about garlic harvest next July!