Grow the World’s Best Garlic

At risk of becoming known as garlic-obsessed following the garlic scape recipe incident, I just had to write a little post about this year’s crop.

garlic drying

I’ve grown garlic for years. And years. And every year it’s done well enough that I would always plant it again, but it never produced really nice large garlic bulbs, the kind that don’t require Sherlock Holme’s magnifying glass in order to peel and chop the little pieces especially when you are in a hurry to get the supper ready and the knife is sharp and the first thing you know you need a band-aid but they are upstairs and you are muttering swear words in the presence of a dear innocent grandchild who has just started talking really well and will memorize and repeat anything she hears…

sweet child

But I digress.

I always planted the garlic in the fall along with a pretty darn nice organic fertilizer mix made from the recipe in Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades.  I buy (sometimes rather large) bags of the ingredients at the farm supply store:

4 parts seed meal (I use cottonseed)
1/2 part lime
1/2 part bonemeal
1/2 part kelp

The person making this mix gets to decide how to define “1 part” and measures everything else relative to that. So you can make a cup or a gallon or a ton.  I like to have a big lidded bucket of this stuff to use with wild abandon all season and to give extra to my favorite plants, kind of like giving treats to the dog.

Westie on the doorstep

So in the fall you break up the seed-garlic bulbs and plant each piece separately, adding in some organic fertilizer. This happens at about the same time as you plant tulip bulbs or daffodil bulbs if you remembered to buy any.

Last fall I planted garlic varieties called  “Music” and “Susanville,” 8 oz of each sort. They are both “stiff neck” varieties which means they might store longer but the stems aren’t supple enough to braid and sometimes I wonder if they would appreciate some Advil because they really are stiff and maybe it hurts I don’t know.

Anyway it’s best to plant garlic on a cold day in the rain because then you know it’s not too early in the season and it’s adequately miserable and also it’s a good way to find out whether or not your boots leak.

So you survive the planting, maybe with just a sore throat afterward or a light case of pneumonia, and then each little muddy garlic clove grows all winter and becomes a whole new tall plant by the spring.

Now, according to Steve Solomon again––whose book has lots of great information but presents it in a kind of glum and judgmental way, just so you know––anyway Steve says that you should “side dress” these plants with blood meal in February and with a complete fertilizer in April. (“Side dressing” is a gardening term and doesn’t have anything to do with any particular gender or fashion style or with being half-naked. )

I always skip that February side-dressing part because of a blood meal/dog problem (he eats it) — I never fertilized the bed again at all really, and so the bulbs in my eventual garlic harvest ranged from small to pathetically small.

This year I impulsively decided to use liquid fish-fertilizer with the growing plants. This fishy-fragrant stuff comes in a gallon container and to use it you dilute only about two tablespoons in a gallon of water so one purchase of it lasts pretty much your whole life. Of course I had my lifetime supply on hand in the greenhouse and I just dosed the garlic plants with it every two weeks through March and April.

garlic bed in June

The photo above was taken in June. Everything looks nice in June no matter what but it did seem to me that the garlic leaves were getting taller than usual. (I worried sometimes, late at night, that I was making it up or that really I was shrinking or that it was a delusion of some sort even though I am only occasionally delusional. )

new garlic bulb

But then the bulbs turned out to be consistently big and beautiful–especially in a close-up image.

Now Steve Solomon might say some scathing thing like, “Well who knew that fertilizer would make plants grow?!” And of course I did know that. But I didn’t know that fish fertilizer, so easy and workable in my world, would help these particular plants quite so much.

Anyway I’m about as happy as I ever get about vegetables except for when I am actually eating them.












About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in Max the Westie, vegetable garden and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Grow the World’s Best Garlic

  1. kininvie says:

    Somehow ‘Music’ and ‘Susanville’ just don’t seem right for garlic names. Now if they sold varieties called ‘Pungent’ or ‘Vampire’s Bane’ or even ‘How’s-my-breath?’ – I might deign to plant some. Not that garlic would grow here.
    Anyway, garlic fails my supermarket test – ie If it don’t taste better than it does in your local superstore, why bother?
    The only veg that pass this test (to date) are carrots, peas, fennel, spinach and chard. So I confine myself to these and save a lot of work (and also fishy aromas)

    • linniew says:

      Well Kininvie I think you are definitely missing the boat, vegetatively speaking. I will allow that you came up with some respectable garlic names there but really rose names are worse and I think they have kind of lowered my botanical nomenclature expectations… In any case I feel certain that garlic would grow in Scotland and it might occasion a homeowner’s insurance benefit unless of course your policy has a vampire exclusion. Also I question whether you could truly tell the difference between grocery-store chard and garden chard. We should arrange a taste test.

  2. I love the bedspring in your raised garden box; what a great idea for a trellis.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Charlie
      It was really wonderful to find a use for that bedspring because I was just so tired of it leaning against the chicken house. I have no idea where it came from and sometimes that does worry me but yes, it has been a terrific vegetable trellis for some years now. Works for peas as well as cucumbers.

  3. Christina says:

    Perfect; my garlic are also larger this year but I’m sure that is because it was a wet winter and spring and even rain in early summer which is rare here in Italy. I didn’t know about the stiff neck ones being good to store, but I do often have those and they usually last well. ENJOY the crop.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Christina
      Here in western Oregon we always have wet winters and springs with intermittent rain even in June. It was a terribly cold February though… Well I hope I will be able to repeat the garlic success next year–if I don’t I likely will just not mention it. But anyway we’ll both have at least one great winter of cooking with garlic!

  4. That’s some nice garlic! I keep meaning to grow my own garlic and never do.

    • linniew says:

      That affliction is called “Garlic Repression” and I think there is drug for it. But the cheapest solution is to put garlic planting on your digital calendar so at the right moment that little box will appear in the corner of the computer screen to remind you. But then you have to not just say “no one tells me what to do you stupid little box” and delete it, which is what I do…

      But in truth I remember garlic because I order it when I order the veg. garden seeds in spring, but the nice company waits until early fall to send it to me. Then it’s there in its little box on the kitchen counter until I am forced to plant it because I need room for making a sandwich or something.

      • So will my Blue Cross cover that pill? Alternatively, will it order garlic seed bulbs for me?

        • linniew says:

          Well Jason I would certainly expect any fully functional health insurance policy to include Garlic Repression meds as well as a seed ordering service because it’s all part of the treatment… But then insurance companies don’t always do what I expect so you might want to check on that.

  5. Hey Linnie, that is great looking garlic. I agree that Kininvie (who always cracks me up) is missing the boat. For one thing, garlic keeps a lot of pests away without having to do a derned thing. How cool is that? I like Spanish Roja, because it has some bite to it and keeps pretty well. I saute’ garlic probably every day with something or other. (So far I haven’t offended anybody.) It’s my dream to have garlic so large that I can braid the stalks and give them away as gifts. One year I did that but the effort drove me nuts. Tough little buggers to clean. But the recipients were happy. Hey, in one hour Tammy from Casa Mariposa will be here to tour my garden. I’m really looking forward to visiting and picking her brain for ideas. We ought to have an Oregon bloggers fling—

    • linniew says:

      Sounds like you and Tammy will be part of the Garden Bloggers fling in Portland this weekend Susan– Please tell Tammy hello for me too– I enjoy her blog a lot! You could be right about having a kind of sub-fling sometime. Maybe in the winter rain at a McMenamins… I’m glad to know another cook who finds a place for garlic in almost every dinner. As to cleaning it, I used to actually wash it but I’ve learned if you let it dry the soil brushes off easily and leaves nice white garlic bulbs.

      • Tammy and I had a ball–what a terrific person. About the garlic, I thought about it some more and I think the fish fertilizer did the trick. (I have dogs too, so forget the side-dressing, sounds like something you do for your vaudeville act anyway.) I forgot to mention the biggest reason to plant garlic–companion planting. If you just stick the cloves here and there you get the killing of the bad actors feature, while having your garlic too. I love it when that happens. Thanks for the tip on cleaning the garlic.

        • linniew says:

          Love the ‘vaudeville act’ angle Susie! And thanks for the companion planting thought. Have a great time this weekend– it must have been fun having Tammy right there in your garden!

  6. VERY impressive! I keep planning to plant garlic, but never have beds ready. I think I’ve got that licked this year though. I’ve actually got most of a vegetable garden and plan to edge most of it with various garlic varieties.

    We did a taste test last year with four varieties grown locally, but I never got around to planting the leftover bulbs. I do have notes on how they taste and observations on how well they last in paper bags in the garage waiting to be planted…

    • linniew says:

      I have tried a lot of different varieties in the past and I have no real idea about the taste differences since I chop garlic for cooking with other things. Maybe if you roasted the bulbs whole it would be more evident. Anyway I mostly look for large cloves that aren’t hopeless to peel. Oh I just checked the Tarot cards for you and this is definitely your Garlic Year so go for it. And remember to harvest the scapes when they uncurl. I still have some of those in the refrigerator to chop into mixes.

  7. Chloris says:

    So that’s how you do it? I have tried in the past but my husband who does all the cooking in this house refused to mess about peeling my offerings. I then tried elephant garlic which is big but tasteless. Now I know the secret maybe I will try again. But on the other hand – side dressing and fish fertiliser? It does sound rather a lot of work and worry.

    • linniew says:

      Well yes I suppose that’s why I never did it before. But note that it is side-dressing OR fish fertilizer. Fish seemed much the easier somehow, and once you get the bulbs to grow all huge maybe your cook will be so appreciative that he will help you do it. A much more difficult problem at my house is getting someone else to cook and if that was as easy as growing garlic I’d have it in hand by now. Any tips?

  8. Dee says:

    I so enjoyed this post. I never thought about fish emulsion, but I have my lifetime supply too. I’m doing that next spring. Maybe my garlic will grow larger too. Thanks. You have a wonderful writing voice. That was the enjoyment part. 🙂

    • linniew says:

      Welcome Dee, and thank you for the kind words. So great to have you here! You reminded me about the word “emulsion” — I had misplaced that term in one of my mind closets but it is indeed what the world calls that liquid fish stuff. I’m glad you have your supply in hand and really it might be a good idea to start making space in your kitchen now so there’s room for next year’s immense garlic crop…

  9. I let the scapes mature and dry, then drop them in a part of a tilled garden bed. the garlic does very well from those seeds.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Cynthia
      But, what? From seeds? Do you get a whole bulb the next season or does it take more time? I have a terrible time growing things from seed really. I planted a whole bed of sunflower seeds this year and not one appeared. I have to start them in the greenhouse and transplant. How exciting though, to think of not starting with garlic bulbs…

      • What happened is that a single garlic plant – not recognized as such – was left, scapes on and all, to go to seed., It dropped the seed from the scapes around it – next year – many garlic plants.
        It’s kept up till now we have garlic growing in several beds (flower, herb and vegetable beds) most of which we didn’t plant. I assume the breeze or the birds did the job.
        When separated to give them room to grow, the plants will grow big bulbs.

  10. kate says:

    Hi Linnie,
    I agree with Dee. A wonderful writing voice! You know who you remind me of? Mike McGrath from Organic Gardening in the 90’s. Look it up in the library if you don’t have copies under your bed like I do. You’re going to go far, girl.
    P.S. Adorable little grandchild!

    • linniew says:

      Hiya Kate!
      Thank you. I don’t know Mike McGrath– I’ll have indeed to look him up. I have other things under beds. I hate that but it’s such a lot of otherwise wasted space. Yes that kid is a cutie. And she recognized Bob Marley when she saw him on my laptop. I think she’s an old soul. xo L

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