Plant garlic now for big bulbs ready next spring

Decent garlic, the kind local growers sell at summer markets, tastes so much better than the

Decent garlic, the kind local growers sell at summer markets, tastes so much better than the imported stuff that it’s worth the extra cost.

But we can grow tasty garlic ourselves with just a little planning and effort. Garlic planted now will develop roots that see it through winter, send up shoots come early spring, and produce larger bulbs than garlic planted next spring.

I’ve bought garlic from summer markets and seed companies for planting, but I wouldn’t use grocery store garlic, as it may not grow if it’s been irradiated and because if it was grown in the tropics it won’t be suitable for the West Coast.

Garlic grown on the West Coast responds to our cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers and prefers full sunlight, although I’ve grown pretty good garlic in six hours of sunshine a day.

This year I’m using the bulbs I grew from the ones I bought from Salt Spring Seeds last year.

I spread one-half inches of compost and six litres of organic fertilizer per 100 square feet over the bed and dig this into the top six inches.

Thus enriched, the soil becomes softer and doesn’t restrict bulb expansion. I side-dress with more fertilizer when shoots appear, again when daffodils sprout and finally in mid-April. A well-weeded bed also allows bulbs to grow bigger.

I never water my garlic, even when drought threatens, and few bulbs succumb to rot, but I do spray about every three weeks with diluted compost tea.

This year I’m going to plant my cloves a bit farther apart than the recommended six inches and rows eight inches apart, because my tomatoes did spectacularly well when grown farther apart than recommended this year and I wonder if garlic would have similar results?

Garlic bulbs are broken apart and each clove is planted separately, pointy end up and roots end down.

This is important, because garlic sends its shoots up and roots down regardless of clove orientation and it will expend energy it could have used in bulb production by twisting its stem and roots to grow in the right directions.

Two years ago I allowed some hard neck garlic to go to seed and harvested countless bulbils and seeds that developed at the tops of the stalks.

Last year I planted many of them, but they got spread around when the garden was dug up to fix a broken sewer pipe so I couldn’t tell which were seeds or bulbils.

Last month when I pulled them up I found they had grown into small onion-shaped bulbs, so I’ll re-plant them along with my saved garlic and sow the rest of the saved seed in another section. The bulbils are clones, so it will be important to separate them from the small black seeds.

Winter rains will bombard and compact the bed, so next spring I’ll need to fluff up the soil with a hoe and think about all the pesto I’m going to make.