I’m a tad late for planting garlic in Maine’s Midcoast during early November, but we had a four-day stretch of 68 degree weather, and I was ready to go. Allium sativum, a bulbous perennial that belongs to the onion family, is adored by gardeners and cooks for its culinary and medicinal properties. The tasty bulbs are propagated by cloves typically planted in the fall for harvest the following summer. It takes 290 days until maturity from a fall planting. The 700 varieties of garlic can be categorized into two main groups—hardneck and softneck—and it is the hardneck I favor this year. “Hardneck” is defined by a central woody stem, fewer but larger cloves, intense flavor, long storage potential, and strong field performance in cold climates. Hardnecks send out a flowering stem, or scape, shortly before harvest which must be cut off in order to send energy into the bulb for further growth.
—Photos and text, Christine Macchi
Autumn is Here
Fall is truly underway.
A quick break to show you the time of year. Fall is rich and beautiful here.
The square wooden dirt screener is used to separate weeds, rocks, and compost debris from manure and garden scraps. This will be explained. My husband made this one by measuring the inside rim of our wheelbarrow, so it would fit just inside but remain above the wheelbarrow’s base. He used 2’ x 4” wood pieces in a square nailed to stainless steel hardware cloth. The dirt screener measures 2’ x 2’ x 4”.
I use a medium-sized pointed shovel, a garden fork for turning the soil, knee pads for getting close to the row, loppers to cut out roots, and a trowel or small hand hoe for garden bed preparation. The silver stake marks the end of planting so I can take a break.
Bulbs are broken down into cloves beforehand to facilitate planting.
The photo shows my wheelbarrow with screener in place bellied up to our rudimentary compost bin (which needs replacing; another tutorial to come). Compost is shoveled directly into the screener and scraped using the hand hoe or trowel so that all the good stuff falls through the mesh, and the used coffee filters, hard peels, and miscellaneous composted scraps remain behind. The resultant lovely brown compost makes this all worthwhile.
With the refined compost in the wheelbarrow, I empty the debris and head to my aging manure pile, delivered several years ago and resting in an area near my garden. This aged manure is shoveled onto the dirt screener, and again, scraped by hand hoe to remove rocks and debris. I carefully pick out and relocate all live worms, the gardener’s helpers. The resulting compost/manure mix is an even deeper richer brown.
The compost/manure mix is brought to the garlic bed and the hard work begins: readying the garlic patch. This bed measures roughly 6’ x 12’.
A view of the final bed with layers of compost and manure, dirt and the straw which will cover the bed during winter.
At The Garden
A quick view of my garden as it is put to bed this Fall. Buckets of sheep, rabbit and goat manure from a nearby farm are at the ready, and a few herbs are still vibrant and green. Straw protects plants, and wooden planks define planted and unplanted areas. I use large sheets of cardboard to prevent weeds from growing (more on this at another time).
I use wooden planks to define the area so that I’ll know the digging is not endless. A thin wooden stake laid down in the row lets me know where garlic is already planted. The 4-inch wide plank is good for limiting the space and for kneeling upon as I plant.
Because this garden has been worked for several years, weeds are not too prevalent. I use a fork to dig out the weeds, rocks and roots that are there, removing them from the garden and transferring them to an area that is not near my compost pile.
I’ve planted garlic each year over the past twenty, so I have this process down. Three pounds of seed plant an area about 140 square feet, or enough to carry us through winter. The bottom of the clove shown here will go down into the ground with the pointy part of the clove facing up.
The trowel is then used to dig a 4- to 6-inch deep trench into which I place the rich compost/manure blend (about 2” high). Cloves are pushed down as deep as 6 inches. Again, be certain to plant the bottom part of the clove into the ground and the pointy top, up! Cloves are spaced about 6” apart, which may be close, but I cultivate regularly. I move the thin wooden stake to define my new row, and I cover the bed with manure and loose straw. Do not use hay for the seeds it carries and introduces to your garden.
Around the House
As usual, other things are going on on this beautiful, unexpectedly-warm autumn day. Activities include my garter-stitch shawl in the works, a jar of sourdough rising, firewood being moved and stacked, and young pullets taking a break at the watering dish.