Garlic comes in many varieties and is easy to grow. (PhotoDisc)
If you’re a foodie, garlic is probably a staple on your shopping list. But if you plant these easy-to-grow bulbs this month, you can begin harvesting succulent garlic scapes in spring and mature bulbs in mid- to late summer. My late partner Jeff Ball, a passionate foodie, swore our homegrown garlic was far better than anything we could buy in a grocery store.
Because this member of the allium family needs a long growing season to produce a mature bulb, here in Michigan garlic must be planted in fall, and late October is prime time.
The good news is garlic is a snap to grow, and you don’t need a lot of space to do it. You can edge your tomato bed with garlic or stick some cloves in the perennial garden.
Divide up the bulb into cloves, leaving the papery skin intact. Plant the cloves pointy side up 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart.
Garlic thrives in six hours or more of sun in well-drained soil rich in organic material. Adding a handful of good quality compost to the soil at planting time will improve the flavor, and mulching with several inches of straw or shredded leaves will keep the cloves from heaving over the winter. It’s best to wait until the soil cools, after a few frosts, to plant the cloves. Don’t fertilize the bulbs with water-soluble chemical fertilizers when planting as nitrogen might stimulate green growth that will be killed over winter.
There are dozens of varieties of garlic to choose from, but they’re divided into two groups: hard neck and soft neck. Michiganians should stick to hard neck varieties because they can handle the big freeze in winter. The stem that emerges from the bulb is hard as a rock on hard neck garlic. It’s soft neck garlic that is used for braiding.
Uncle Luke’s Feed Store in Troy (www.unclelukes.com) and its sister store, Flushing Lawn and Garden (810-659-6241) in Flushing, carry four varieties of hard neck garlic. You can also buy Michigan grown garlic at farmers markets.
I found it online at the Cook’s Garden (www.cooksgarden.com, 800-457-9703) and Renee’s Garden (reneesgarden.com, 888-880-7228).
Garlic prefers consistently moist soil until about a month prior to harvest when, like tomatoes, it prefers dry soil. So I water it when I plant in fall, and the mulch layer usually holds the needed moisture in the soil through spring.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.