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Your Garden . . . with Cayce Hill: Plant your garlic now and it will be ready to harvest by next summer

Published in Morgan Hill October 12-25, 2016

By Cayce Hill

Cayce Hill

Cayce Hill

Not everyone plants a winter garden, and some gardeners have a good excuse. An acceptable excuse usually has something to do with really, really cold weather.

I can see how you wouldn’t want to be out freezing your fingertips if you don’t have to. And I am certainly not one to freeze my fingertips unless it is in my job description to do so.

No excuses for those of us who live in the Bay Area, though. Not only can we plant and harvest through the, err… “cold” months, we have options — options if we plan ahead, that is.

Gardeners here who are organized (and can bear to tear out our summer crops early enough) spend late summer starting fall edibles such as kale, lettuce, turnips, cabbage, spinach…the list goes on.

But what if late summer and then early fall happen to slip right by?

And there you are with the first week of November staring you in the face. Too late to plant most of the delicious veggies I’ve listed above. But no worries, you can still plant garlic.

Placed an inch or so beneath the soil, six inches from each other, in rows 12 to 16 inches apart, each clove will wait patiently underground until temperatures are just cool enough to trigger germination.

Water your garlic enough to keep the soil moist until you see slender green leaves poking up to remind you that, yes, there is in fact something planted in that bed.

If you plant garlic now, it will be ready to harvest by early summer. Watch for the green tops to turn yellow, which is a good indicator to stop watering them. Allow them to dry out for a week or two in the ground and then lift the bulbs carefully out of the ground

Avoid nicking them as damaged garlic doesn’t store well. Find a warm, dry place to hang your garlic for two or three weeks, then trim back the roots and top growth. Once the skin of the garlic bulbs feels papery, then it’s time to store them in a cool (not too cold or it will sprout), well-ventilated spot.

I’m usually able to grow and store enough of garlic to supply my allium-infatuated household for most of the year. In just 60 square feet. And I always set aside a few heads for re-planting in fall.

There are a number of online vendors who sell high-quality, organically-produced seed garlic. It’s usually best to order it several months before planting time, so at this point you may find that their selection is pretty limited.

However, even if UPS isn’t delivering garlic to your doorstep, local nurseries and feed stores usually have heads of for sale to save the day. If you’ve never experienced the juicy, spicy cloves of fresh garlic that snap (not bend) between your fingers, then now is your chance. Go out and plant some this winter.

Cayce Hill is a UCCE Master Gardener of Santa Clara County. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.