In the fall, our attention is often on harvesting garden crops. But fall is also the time to plant some things, including garlic.
Garlic can be planted in the Rogue Valley from mid-October through November. It's best to plant it after the first hard frost, to give the soil a chance to cool a bit, but before fall rains begin in earnest.
The two main types of garlic are hardneck and softneck, with ranges of flavor for each. The milder elephant garlic is actually a member of the leek family, so does not fall into either category.
Softneck is the more common of the two types that you'll find in the supermarket, partly because it keeps a bit longer than the hardneck type. A parchment-like covering over the bulb is either white or a very pale pink. Although they have the advantage of being braidable because of their flexible stems, they can be annoying because the cloves, especially the ones on the inside of the bulb, are often quite small.
Hardnecks, with a stiff, sometimes rather thick neck, produce larger cloves and the parchment is easier to remove. One reason they aren't seen at the grocery store as often is that their thinner parchment makes them more subject to having cloves knocked off when handled. If you are growing them for your own use, that characteristic probably won't cause a problem.
All garlic needs fertile, well-drained soil. It will do well in large tubs or pots, if you don't have raised beds. Use plenty of compost to ensure good drainage, as the cloves will rot over the winter if they are in heavy, wet soil. Work in some balanced fertilizer and bone meal before planting.
Buy garlic bulbs that are sold for growing, rather then using ones from the grocery store, unless they are designated as organic. Otherwise, they may have been treated to prevent sprouting.
Break the bulb into cloves and plant them pointy-side up about 2 inches deep and 3 inches apart. The top of the clove should be about one inch under the soil. Over the rest of the fall and winter, they will develop roots, and depending on the weather may show some green shoots above the ground.
It's a good idea to cover them with a layer of straw or compost for the winter. As spring approaches and the longer days of spring signal the garlic plants to develop bulbs, pull back that winter protection.
Keep the garlic bed watered and weeded during the spring growing season. In late June or July, the foliage will begin to dry and turn brown. Hardnecks may form a blooming stalk, or seed head, in the center. Just clip them off.
When most of the garlic foliage turns a dry brown, stop watering for two weeks, then dig a bulb to see whether the parchment skin has formed over the bulb. If not, leave them in the ground a while longer. If they have, it's time for harvest.
Dry and cure them out of the sun, in an airy place. Clip off the tops and store in mesh bags — old pantyhose work well — at about 50 degrees. If you have planted softnecks, this is the time to braid the tops and perhaps decorate your kitchen with them.
Reach Carol Oneal at email@example.com.