Growing Great Garlic

Sunday, October 13th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Holland flower bulbs are now available for fall planting. These lovely gems will bloom for you next spring.
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.
    • Wildflower seed broadcasted with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.
    • Divide artichoke plants which have been in the ground for three or four years. Mulch established plants with steer manure.
    • Protect the pond from the worst of the leaf fall with a fine-mesh net over the surface of the pond.

Growing Great Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen, turning ordinary food into gourmet delights. And it should be a staple in the garden as well. Homemade garlic oil spray makes an effective deterrent for many garden pests. And garlic, when interplanted with other crops, will help repel some insect pests.

Garlic grows best in deep, rich well-drained soil, and full sun. Bulbs will not develop to their full size if it is shady. It should be planted in the fall as close to the autumnal equinox as possible. This gives the bulbs time to develop some roots before winter. Garlic likes cool weather, so it is a good winter crop. It will be ready to harvest around the summer solstice.

A garlic bulb is separated into cloves and each clove is planted 4-6 inches apart and 1-2 inches deep. Weeds are garlic’s biggest enemy so weed the bed regularly. Gophers love garlic so protect your crop with gopher wire or traps. Newly planted garlic should be watered twice a week until the rains start.

One pound of garlic plants a 25-foot row or a bed 4 by 6 feet at 4-inch spacing. For most garlics, you can harvest 10 pounds for every pound you plant.

In the early spring, encourage vigorous leaf growth by fertilizing the bed. Use fish emulsion, blood meal or a high-nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. Foliar application is especially helpful once the leaves get bigger. Stop fertilizing as soon as you see the base begin to swell as the plant begins to form a bulb.

Keep the plants well watered during the last few weeks when the bulbs are forming. The extra water and fertilizer will result in large bulbs. Sometimes flower stalks will start to grow. It is important to cut or break them off as soon as you see them or they will reduce the size of your crop.

Garlic is harvested in late June or July. The leaves will turn yellow and then brown when the garlic is ready to harvest. Let it dry on the ground for a day or two. You can braid the dried stalks and hang them on a wall where they will be decorative and handy.

There are hundreds of kinds of garlic grown throughout the world. They can be divided into two groups: hard-necked garlic and soft-necked ones.

The most common here is California Early White, which is grown commercially around Gilroy, California. It is vigorous, productive and has a pungent flavor. It is the easiest to grow and seems to be less fussy about growing conditions than the others. It is a softneck variety.

Late Pink garlic has smooth bulbs and pinkish cloves with a fairly strong flavor. It has a soft pliable neck that lends itself to braiding and stores for 6 to 8 months in proper conditions. It matures late and is usually the last garlic to come out of the ground.

Spanish Roja is an heirloom garlic with rich, spicy flavor. This large hardneck variety has a blushed pink-red color with bulbs usually over 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The bulbs have thin bulb wrappers and 7-10 easy-to-peel cloves per bulb.

Elephant garlic is a very large, easy-to-peel garlic with a mild flavor. It is a good keeper and full-sized bulbs weigh up to 1 pound. Plant the cloves 3 to 4 inches below the soil surface and space them from 8 to 10 inches apart in the row.

October is the best time to plant garlic, so grow yourself some great garlic this year.

Putting the Garden to Bed

Monday, October 26th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Tulips can paint the spring garden with almost any color you choose. Plant them now to enjoy their bright flowers next April.
    • Wildflower seed broadcasted with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.
    • Garlic sets can be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from hard-neck, soft-neck or Elephant garlic varieties now available.
    • Compost your leaves as they fall, don’t burn them! Leaves make wonderful compost that breaks down into rich humus by next summer.
    • Choose shade trees for fall color now and plant them while the soil is still warm.

Putting the Garden to Bed

Fall is a glorious time of year to work in the yard. It is the ideal time to take stock of your perennial gardens and correct mistakes and problem areas, dig up, rearrange and divide existing plants, add new perennials and shrubs, and plant spring blooming bulbs. As fall winds down and this work is completed, you will turn to the task of putting your garden to bed. Completing a few simple tasks now will not only prepare your garden to withstand the winter but also help plan for next spring.

In the vegetable garden, remove any dead plants and place them in the compost pile. Then turn the soil and plant a winter-hardy green manure crop such as crimson clover, fava beans or annual rye grass. Another option is to turn the soil and then spread a thick layer of compost or shredded leaves on the bed. Both methods will protect and improve the soil over the winter. By preparing the beds in the fall, you can take advantage of the first available planting days in late winter and early spring to plant early peas, spinach, cabbage and lettuce.

Divide artichoke plants which have been in the ground for three or four years. Mulch established plants with steer manure. Garlic should be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Tree collards can be planted now for a delicious winter vegetable.

In your flower beds, wait until perennials have died back before cutting them back almost to ground level, and compost the cuttings that aren’t diseased. The rule of thumb is: “If it’s yellow or brown, cut it down, if it’s green, leave it alone.” Plants that remain green through the winter can be cut back in March when they begin to grow again.

Don’t cut ornamental grasses back until late winter or early spring. Wait until new growth is beginning to emerge from the base of the plant. The stems of perennials like black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and grasses add winter interest to the garden, and their seeds provide food for wintering birds.

This is a good time to divide overgrown perennials. It’s also a good time to choose and plant some new varieties, and be sure to add some spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips.

Remove the leaves of hostas, daylilies and agapanthus as these tend to turn into a soggy mess by spring and provide shelter for slugs. Rake up fallen rose leaves and remove them from the garden area as they frequently have disease spores.

Dig up dahlia bulbs when they are finished blooming. Begonia bulbs should be lifted if they are in the ground. If they are in containers, you can cut back the foliage after frost and store the pots in a dry, frost-free area.

Preparing the garden for the winter ahead ensures that it gets off to a good start next season. Come the spring, when you have so much work to do, you will be glad that your garden is clean and ready for a new year.

Garden Companions

Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • There’s still time to plant summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and corn will bear for you if you plant them now.
    • It’s time to set out Brussels sprouts for fall harvest.
    • Stake or cage tomato plants before they get any larger.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.
    • Fertilize container plants every 10 to 14 days with a liquid fertilizer. Pinch off faded blossoms and they will keep blooming all summer for you.

Secrets of Companion Planting

The practice of mixing flowers and herbs into the vegetable garden or around certain shrubs to attract beneficial insects and repel harmful ones is known as companion planting. Hundreds of examples of plant companions are recorded in garden folklore, and scientific studies have supported many of these.

There are many varieties of herbs, flowers and vegetables that can be used for companion plants. Certain plants act as “trap crops” that draw pest insects away from other plants. Nasturtiums are used this way to attract aphids which seem to prefer them to other crops. Planting a ring of them around apple trees limits woolly aphid damage to the trees (although the nasturtiums won’t look too great).

“Nurse plants” provide breeding grounds for beneficial insects. Herbs such as fennel, dill, anise and coriander are members of the carrot family that produce broad, flat clusters of small flowers that attract beneficials. Grow these plants near your vegetables to keep parasitic wasps nearby. Sunflowers, zinnias and asters also attract helpful insects.

Cucumber beetles, which look like green lady bugs, are a common pest in the vegetable garden. You can lure them away from other plants by planting radishes or nasturtiums nearby. Nasturtiums also deter whiteflies and squash bugs.

Radishes will lure leafminers away from spinach. The damage the leafminers do to radish leaves does not stop the radish roots from growing and being edible, a win-win situation.

Flea beetles are tiny black insects that riddle eggplant leaves with holes. Catnip nearby will deter these creatures. It will also reduce aphids on pepper plants. Keep the catnip in a pot, though, because it can grow out of control in the garden.

Sweet basil is known to repel aphids, mosquitoes and flies. Planted near tomatoes, it is said to help them overcome both insects and diseases and also improves their growth and flavor.

Garlic grown in a circle around fruit trees is good protection against borers. It also deters aphids, weevils and spider mites. It is beneficial when planted around rose bushes for these reasons. Plant near cabbage to repel the cabbage moth and resultant caterpillar damage.

Rosemary deters cabbage moth, bean beetles and carrot flies, so plant some around your vegetable garden.

Marigolds are known for their ability to suppress nematodes. However, we do not have soil nematodes in this area of California. French marigolds help to deter whiteflies when planted around tomatoes and can be useful in the greenhouse for the same purpose. Marigolds may help repel flea beetles from eggplants. For best results plant marigolds that are tall and strongly scented, with the eggplants.

There are many other interesting possibilities. So fill your garden with flowers and herbs and reap their protective benefits as well as their beauty and fragrance.