Gardener’s Notebook by Joshua Burman Thayer
Why and how to plant garlic in October for winter enjoyment.
Garlic (allium sativum) is a Central Asia native of the onion family. Known as “shumim’ in the Talmud, this sacred medicinal and edible plant was used as currency in ancient Egypt.
During college, I lived with an Ethiopian man, Ismael, who would cook for us twice a day. Each meal would begin by Ismael preparing garlic, onion, ginger, and jalapeño with his oft-repeated thanks to these four medicinal edibles for keeping his family healthy despite the questionable quality of the local water supply. Thereafter, I took to stuffing a head of garlic in my backpack before heading off to parts unknown, and whenever I found myself hungrily eyeing an item of street food, I would start by consuming a raw clove of garlic. There was no way it was going to hurt, anyhow, since garlic is rich in manganese, vitamin B6 and vitamin C, and has long been utilized as a digestive aid and stimulant.
I later learned with interest that garlic, like humans, needs a full nine months of gestation starting out. Autumn is a good time to plant, since it means that your garlic can sprout and begin to grow prior to the winter cold snaps. As the cold sets in, your garlic has a chance to achieve “vernalization,” which means it’s gone through a dormant period after which it’s stimulated to form a bulb and divide as well as develop a nice quality and flavor.
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic likes rich, fluffy soil, which is easiest to achieve in raised beds or pots. I plant 20 five-gallon pots with garlic each year and place them along my driveway. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so I amend the soil with one 3-cubic-foot bag of compost and 1 pound bone meal per 100-foot square area.
Garlic from seed take two years, so by planting garlic cloves you save a year. Check with your favorite local supplier and consider ‘New York White’ and ‘Elephant’ varieties.
Plant each clove pointy side up at 2 inches deep and mulch to buffer the root temperature. Laying down straw hay, wood chips, or cocoa hulls two to four inches thick over the garden bed creates an insulating skin and helps feed the soil as the force of driving rains help decompose the mulch, breaking it down to finer particles, which help build the fertility of the soil.
Your garlic will be ready to harvest in June, but make sure to dry out the bed for a week prior to harvest. Pull the whole plant out of ground when half of the leaf has turned brown, then dry the garlic by hanging it or placing on a dry tarp in the sun.
Garlic Companion Plants
Garlic likes to grow without any other plants crowding it, so it’s important to keep the bed weed free. However, certain companions can create harmony in the garden. For instance, raspberry growing nearby the garlic can help reduce the likelihood of cabbage moths, and an aromatic like parsley helps dissuade pests. And I always recommend planting arugula and radishes wherever you have some extra space.
Books for Further Learning:
Plants of the Bible by Michael Zohary.
The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier.
The Forest Garden Greenhouse by Jerome Osentowski.
Food Grown Right, in your Backyard by McCrate and Halm.
Learn more about Food Forests and Permaculture Landscape Design: Joshua Burman Thayer, nativesungardens.com, 510.332.2809