October is the best time to plant garlic and gamble with shallots. Garlic is like a daffodil bulb. It needs to be planted in the fall so the clove can grow roots over the winter and then start growing a new bulb in early spring. Garlic planted in the spring will grow but the heads will be much smaller.
Shallots are another member of the onion family that are prized for dishes that need a subtle onion flavor. While I have successfully grown them here, they won’t survive an extremely cold winter. If that happens, you can plant another crop in the spring. Fall grown shallots are ready in the early summer while spring planted shallots are ready at the end of the summer. Garlic planted in the fall will be ready at the end of July.
Seed garlic is available from our local garden centers and online. Grocery store garlic isn’t hardy here so avoid using it. Commercial seed garlic is not cheap. A pound or about six to seven heads runs between $20-25 this year. Shallots can be purchased as seed for spring sowing otherwise the bulbs will run around $10-15 for either a pound or a bag of 10.
There are two kinds of garlic, softneck and hardneck. Softneck garlic has a soft, fibrous neck that is often braided into strands while hardneck garlic will have a stiff stem in the middle of the leaves.
The difference is that hardneck garlic will have fewer but large cloves wrapped around the hard stem. Hardneck garlic will send up a flower stalk or scape in the spring that can be harvested. They are more flavorful, will only keep for four to six months but are easier to peel.
Softneck garlic will have more but smaller cloves in a cluster with no scape. They have a milder flavor and will keep for nine to 12 months. There are dozens of varieties available on the market so experiment to find your favorite. My favorite garlic is Music, a hardneck garlic that is very spicy.
To plant garlic or shallots, add a couple of inches of compost and work the soil into a level bed. Carve out a furrow about 2 inches deep. Break the heads of garlic into cloves and plant only the largest cloves. Set the cloves or individual shallots in the bottom of the furrow, flat end down about 4 inches apart. Cover the planting with soil and gently pack it down.
About mid-November come back and cover the bed with 3-4 inches of mulch for insulation.
In March, pull back the mulch to expose the now sprouting plants and fertilize them with a 5-10-10 fertilizer. Water only until the middle of June and then let the plants rest to grow their large bulbs.
In late July after half the leaves on each plant have turned yellow, gently dig the heads and store them in a cool dark space for a month to harden up.
Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at email@example.com.
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