Garlic is actually very easy to grow. All it takes is a well-prepared bed, cool fall temperatures and a few heads of garlic. Even the grocery store garlic will generally grow if you just want to try your hand at it. Be advised though that some commercial garlic has been treated to avoid sprouting (as are some potatoes), and the taste will be no better or different than ordinary garlic. You may still find some other garlic varieties to plant now by doing an internet search. At the end of this article are links to several previous garlic articles listing some suppliers.
For several years now I have grown my own garlic, although last fall was the first planting at my current home. This summer’s harvest was disappointing, mainly because I had not done sufficient bed preparation in this heavy clay soil. The garlic was/is tasty but the bulbs were small, and a few rotted in the ground for lack of good drainage. Therefore, good bed preparation was a ‘must’ before planting any more garlic.
Click on ANY photo (other than thumbnail) to see full-size image.
Garden bed with weeds Tilling weeds Amendments added
After my summer vegetables were finished in this bed, I unintentionally let the weeds grow up, so it was a real mess. We shallowly tilled up the weeds and raked them off, then added some weed-seed-free green manure via grass clippings. Then I tilled deeper, added lots of amendments including well-composted manure, and tilled once again. I plan this to be the last time I till in that bed, preferring to go to a no-till method with established beds and walkways. The addition of mineral amendments aids in bulb formation for both garlic and shallots. I did not address pH balance nor NPK since my soil test results are not back yet, but those can be top or side dressed later. The soil is now loose, fertile, well-amended, and it should drain sufficiently so my bulbs do not rot.
After tilling the entire area, permanent beds were laid out 36 inches wide with a 12-inch wide walkway between each bed. The soil in each of the walkways was removed with a flat shovel down to untilled soil; the loose soil we removed was added to each bed. The tops of the beds were flattened out with a rake, leaving an actual planting area of over 24 inches wide, with sloping sides. Now that there are walkways allowing me to reach both sides of each bed for planting and tending, there is no reason to walk on the beds again (which compacts the soil). Next, I ran a string guideline down the center of each bed and poked holes 4 to 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart to plant each individual garlic clove. Five inches on either side of the center row, I made another string line and another row of holes but with these holes offset by half to the center row of holes, thus staggering the holes in each row.
After dropping one garlic clove root side down in each hole, I covered the holes and added about three 3 inches of straw over the entire bed. (Note the bucket below with seed heads removed from only a fraction of my straw. I'll have to be sure to remove the straw before the remaining seed heads germinate in spring.) If you are planting more than one variety of garlic, it is a good idea to draw a location map as well as placing marking stakes showing what variety is where. This year I planted one pound each of 'Siberian' (a mild-flavored Marbled Purple Stripe variety), 'Red Toch' (a hardy Artichoke softneck variety) and 'Susanville' (a hardy and early softneck Artichoke variety), plus half a pound each of 'Shantung Purple' (a fiery hot Turban sub-variety of Artichoke garlic) and 'Keeper' (a hardneck Creole variety). Listed at the bottom of this article are links to several previous articles on growing garlic. In those articles you will find links to suppliers, along with extensive lists of garlic varieties with taste, size and storage attributes.
Shallots (Allium ascalonicum)
Planting shallots is similar to planting garlic, with a few exceptions. Shallots do not form ‘cloves’; instead they form bulbs in a cluster around the bulb you planted. Because they form a large clump, shallot bulbs need to be planted about 8 inches apart in the row, keeping 10 to 12 inches between rows. The width of the beds I made for garlic will hold three rows of garlic, but only 2 rows of shallots. Separate the shallot bulbs from each clump just before planting so they don’t dry out too much. (Same for garlic cloves.)
Plant each shallot bulb so only the very tip of the bulb shows at the ground level, the same way amaryllis are planted. Do not mulch, as it tends to rot the bulbs. (Please note: some sites do say to mulch, and if it looks like a cold winter, I do add mulch. However if I do mulch, the first thing in spring the mulch must come off to prevent rot.) Water well after planting, but do not water again until the soil is dry. Shallots should be side-dressed in spring with well-composted manure or a balanced fertilizer before bulb formation begins. They will rot if kept wet but they do need about an inch of water a week, so water them carefully (in well-draining soil).
In this garden bed, I planted 2 pounds of French Red Shallots and 1 pound of Dutch Yellow Shallots. I really wanted French Grey Shallots, so highly prized by chefs as the only “true” shallot, but I couldn’t locate any at the time I was ready to order bulbs. I’ll be looking again for them next year.
Shallot descriptions from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply:
“French Red Shallots are an indispensable staple in French cuisine. Excellent mild, rich onion flavor. Mid-sized, and very tasty shallot. Very tolerant and can be grown in acidic soil down to 5.0 pH, but prefer 6.0-6.8 pH. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil.”
“Dutch Yellow Shallots have copper red skins and are excellent keepers. Tender and spicy, with a pungent raw flavor that mellows and sweetens when cooked. Shallots are very tolerant and can be grown in acidic soil down to 5.0 pH, but prefer 6.0-6.8 pH. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil.”
I hope the ease of growing garlic and shallots encourages you to try some yourself!
The thumbnail photo at the top is from istockphoto.com # 3000844 © Jack Kunnen, used by permission. All other photos are copyright by the author.
Click on these links for other garlic articles, and more information about varieties:
Why Grow Garlic?
Hardneck Garlic for Northern Climates
Softneck Garlic for Southern Climates
The Creole Garlics
Why would anyone grow A Stinking Rose? For Garlic of Course!