EASY TO GROW
Sweet smell of success from garden-variety garlic
By Jim Hillibish
Copley News Service
In many parts of the country, March is an exciting time as winter weather systems from the northwest collide with spring-like warm fronts from the southwest.
This generates the famous March winds, early spring rains and surprise snowstorms that often melt off the next day.
Gardeners must work a little harder for their fun than weather watchers.
As soon as the snow melts and the soil dries from its winter mud, we'll be planting peas.
Hybrid bush varieties are a good choice for those without a trellis. They'll need fence protection from rabbits, as they are the first green shoots of the vegetable world.
NEEDS LOTS OF TIME
Another earlier comer is garlic, which can go in at the same time as the peas. It needs a long growing season to produce heads underground in mid-summer.
Homegrown garlic is sweet and fresh, superior to store-bought, which has sat around for months. Your "seeds" are as close as the grocery store.
I buy them by the bag for best value.
For your garden, strip off the largest cloves from the bulbs, keeping their paper-like skins intact. Use the smaller, internal bulbs in your kitchen.
Wait until you're ready to plant before separating the bulbs into cloves. This will increase your harvest.
The culture of garlic is similar to that of its cousin, the onion. It needs light, friable soil with plenty of organic matter that drains rapidly. It will grow in clay soils, but the bulbs will be misshapen.
Plant the cloves root end down (pointed end up) three inches apart in rows a foot apart.
Within a few days, shoots will emerge. There's no need to protect them, as critters hate them.
LONGER DAYS HELP
Cool days and nights are perfect for leaf development. Grocery garlic produces tall stands of leaves, sometimes more than 2 feet. As the days grow longer and warmer, bulb development starts.
Garlic is highly productive - one clove produces a bulb containing eight new ones.
In early June, your plants suddenly will send out rapidly growing seed stalks, almost overnight. They consume plant energy and must be pruned. You want that energy to go to bulb production.
The stalks, called sweet garlic, are edible and a springtime treat. They are exceptionally mild and may be chopped on salads or used as a fresh garnish.
When the plant leaves start to wane, it's harvest time, probably in late June. Dig one to see. Don't procrastinate; you need the leaves to see where the bulbs are. They will sprout and become harsh if you keep them in the soil.
Dig under the bulb and lift it to the surface. Brush off the dirt and dry the bulbs on newspaper in the sunlight for a couple of days. Then load them into plastic net bags and store them in a cool, dark place.
GOODBYE TO BULBS
In September, I plant my largest cloves for next year's crop. The leaves will survive the winter and produce an earlier crop next summer. After your first crop, you'll never again have to buy bulbs.
Garlic has but one disease problem, a milky fungus. To prevent this, rotate your plantings each season. Never plant in soil that has grown onions. If fungus develops, do not grow garlic in that soil for at least five years.
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Jim Hillibish writes about gardening for The Repository in Canton, Ohio.
Visit Copley News Service at www.copleynews.com.