วันศุกร์ที่ 2 มกราคม พ.ศ. 2552

How to Grow Garlic #1

What Really is Garlic, anyway?

Garlic (Allium sativum L.) may be the oldest cultivated plant by humans and is of the same general plant family as lillies and onions and leeks. More than botanical designations, garlic is a lifeform, that is, a living being that continues to remain alive by dividing or cloning itself into many miniature versions of itself and basically consumes its old self in the process of becoming its new self.

The heart and soul, as it were, of the garlic is the so-called true stem, or basal plate from which the roots extend downward and the leaves, cloves and false stalk (properly called scape) emerge and reach upward seeking light and air, for it is the sun and air that power the water pump that is a garlic plant. It is from this true stem that the mother clove gives her life to all her daughter cloves, passing her very essence on directly to them.

Garlic grows by dissolving nutrients and drawing the nutrient laden moisture into its roots and drawing it up to the true stem where it is used to build various parts of the plant. The whole time, the tiny central heart of the plant is growing like a nautilus in its chambered shell, for its growth pattern is a spiral, with new growth forming at the center and maturing as the new little cloves work their way around and out from their birthplace at the the center, growing ever larger as they dance round the center in celebration of their lives as if honoring their giver of life as they take their first steps in their trip through life. What else could it be?

Garlic is undeniably a living entity that responds to its environment. As diners, we justify our wholesale slaughter of our defenseless little brethren by agreeing to preserve their species by becoming growers and thereby allowing the garlic species not only to carry on their kind, but promising to let them live in sumptuous quarters, free from interference by weeds on the condition that they have plenty of kids we can eat.

Sunlight and atmospheric gasses provide energy to power the process and as sunlight increases with the day-length in spring, the pump works harder and harder until the intensity of the sun causes it to burn out and the plant withdraws all its liquid resources back down into the rapidly forming cloves and it withdraws to the cool underground to wait until fall so it can begin the process of growing again, this time in multiplex.

The Growing of Garlic
Garlic is fairly easy to grow. Great garlic is fairly difficult to grow. If you just want to grow garlic, put the separated cloves in the ground anytime between September and March and it will probably grow, but not very well. If you want to grow large, healthy bulbs, there's much more to it than that.

This section is meant for the backyard gardener and is not meant for those who want to grow large quantities of garlic for commercial purposes, I recommend Ron Engeland's book Growing Great Garlic. It's the book that got us started.

First, consider your location, climate and soil conditions and then determine the kinds of garlic which grow best in your area.

Let's talk about location and climate first. While garlic originated in central Asia with its long cold winters, damp cool springs and warm, dry summers, it has been transported around the globe and grown in so many areas that its needs seem to have changed a little. Some varieties, such as Rocamboles, still want those conditions in order to thrive. Porcelains, Purple Stripes and Silverskins are more tolerant, but still won't stand for a hot, dry spring. Artichokes will do well almost anywhere. For a detailed description of these five basic varieties, please read our Overview of Garlic section where we explain the differences between them. Don't be afraid to experiment. A wonderful and wizened master herbalist, Odena Brannam, told us when we first started that she had grown things all her life in places the experts said they would not grow. She had accomplished the impossible many times because she did not know it could not be done.

Organic Growing Versus Chemicals
Soil conditions and watering are of utmost importance if you want to grow excellent, large healthy garlic. Garlic will grow (barely) in almost any dirt with whatever water is available to it but will thrive in healthy soil with proper watering. If you do not grow organically, you cannot grow garlic as good as those who do. That is a simple fact of nature. Chemical manufacturers may tell you otherwise, but they stand to make a lot of money from you if you grow as they say, whereas I stand to make no money off of you if you grow as I suggest-just a slightly less polluted planet. You figure out who is more likely to be honest with you.

Chemical growers feed the plants at the expense of the soil-and a lot of money. Organic growers feed the soil to the benefit of the plants-for very little money. If you build up your soil with manures and compost and a few trace minerals, your soil will stay healthy for years with a minimum of additions but when you use chemicals, you must add them on an on-going basis if your soil is to grow anything. The reason for this is that the soil is an ecosystem that contains millions of microscopic plant and animal lifeforms that live off one another just like in the jungle or the sea. When the soil is in balance in this way, the plants that grow in it can pull what they need out of it and thrive. Plants need much more than just Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous, they need the wide variety of micronutrients and minerals that healthy, well balanced soil provides.

When you add high concentrations of NPK fertilizers, this imbalance kills off vast numbers of these microorganisms and the plants feed on their decaying bodies which gives you a good crop this year, but results in a less naturally fertile soil with far fewer microbes and you have to keep adding more of the fertilizers in subsequent years just to grow a plant that is inferior to a plant grown organically.

When you use chemical insecticides and herbicides, they kill not only the surface pests you aim to kill, but also soak into the ground and kill most of the microorganisms living in the soil as well, resulting in a less fertile growing environment yet. They can also leach into your community drinking water, too.

Do you really want to drink pesticide-laden water? Pesticide residues in our drinking water are not neutralized by adding chlorine or flouride to the water as they are not organic lifeforms but inorganic chemicals that can contribute to many human ailments. Some of the highest cancer rates are among people who apply pesticides and who work with the plants that have had pesticides applied, according to insurance industry statistics. That stuff soaks into the plants and cannot be washed off because it is inside them. If the government requires applicators to wear "protective" clothing, boots, gloves, hoods and masks to apply it, why would you want to eat it?

What's Really in Your Fertilizer?
Until recently I thought that NPK fertilizers weren't so bad; after all, it was the pesticides that were the real problem, right? I now see I was wrong and that many commercial fertilizers are as bad and some are worse than pesticides and are actually hazardous to your health. Fertilizers have been required to have their claimed amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium, but the other "inert" ingredients weren't regulated so any hazardous waste that contained any amounts of any form of N, P or K could be sold as fertilizer, regardless of what the undisclosed ingredients were.

A few years ago at the Garlic is Life! Symposium in Tulsa I met the former mayor of a small town in Washington and listened to her story. Patty Martin and some of her constituents discovered that some large industrial companies were disposing of hazardous wastes, including dioxins, lead, mercury, and even some radioactive material by putting it into fertilizer or selling it to companies that did. She was rightfully concerned for the welfare of her own family as well as all the town's other people and rattled enough people's cages to spur an investigation by investigative reporter, Buff Wilson of the Seattle Times newspaper. The story attracted nationwide attention and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. It resulted in the state of Washington passing and implementing a law regulating the content of fertilizers and requiring fertilizer manufacturers to label the contents. They also tested all fertilizers sold in Washington and have published the list of ingredients on the internet - good move!

By avoiding the EPA's expensive hazardous waste disposal sites and selling their wastes to fertilizer manufacturers, some industrial companies have turned otherwise costly hazardous waste into a profitable product. Slick, huh? To find out what's in your fertilizer and learn a lot more about this important issue or Buy the Book, Click Here.

In view of the above, I cannot in good conscience recommend using commercial fertilizers in growing garlic - which is good because research shows that standard NPK fertilizers really don't do much for garlic, anyway, as it's the minerals/micronutrients that garlic seeks. After all, garlic originated in the thin, rocky mountainous soils of the area just north of modern Afganistan.
Follow our organic growing links for much more detailed information about growing organically and get into it. Prepare your soil a few months in advance so that it is in good balance when you plant. We recommend you have your soil tested for more than NPK and pH, but for micronutrient analysis also so that you will know what your soil lacks and what it has enough or too much of. That way you will know what and how much to add. Too much of anything can be bad, it is balance that is important.

Planting the Garlic
It's usually best to plant garlic in the fall as close to the autumnal equinox as possible. Garlic likes to sprout roots in the fall and feed and develop for a little while before the cold winter temperatures force it to curtail its growth and rest until the warmer weather comes. It uses this time to establish its root system so it can survive the winter and be ready to explode with growth in the spring before the weather turns hot. Hot weather forces garlic to bolt; that is, try to go to seed, as it were. But since garlic does not produce seed, it reproduces by forming as many cloves as its genetics allow and growing them as big as it can before the summer heat kills the leaves.

If you leave that multi-cloved bulb in the ground, it will wait until fall and every one of those cloves will try to send up its own leaves and they will all try to grow in the same spot, resulting in a large number of very small garlics the following spring. That is why it is necessary to pull the bulb out of the ground when it matures and store it in a cool, dry place until the fall. In the fall, separate the bulbs into cloves, being careful not to bruise or damage the cloves, and plant the cloves, top side up, four to eight inches apart so they will have room to grow and not fight over the limited resources of a small area.

Commercial growers in California and other places usually plant them right next to one another and the bulbs are not only touching, but crowding each other in heavily chemically-fertilized fields. These fields are also treated with toxic fungicides to try to fight soil-borne fungi that are too firmly entrenched from 75 years of growing almost nothing but garlic. On the other hand, if you grow garlic in a three or four year rotation with other crops, Mother Nature will sweeten the soil for you and drop the level of fungi below the level at which it is a problem - and grow a better tasting and better looking and healthier plant as well. And the additional outdoor exercise contributes to your all-around good health and well being, all for a lot less money. It's your choice.

In most parts of the country, garlic likes to be planted in fertile, well drained raised beds so that the bulb itself is up out of the water level and the roots are down in the water. The height of the raised beds and the depth to plant the cloves (root end down) depend on what part of the country you want to grow the garlic in. If your area gets a lot of rain and snow and very cold winters, then use higher beds and plant the cloves four inches deep and mulch heavily to protect the garlic from sub-zero temperatures. If you grow in more arid areas with warmer winters and less snow, then lower the beds and don't plant the garlic so deep. Garlic will grow in flat ground without raised beds, but the raised beds help the garlic fend off diseases that can come when the bulb sits in water too long.

Preparing the Garlic for Planting
Garlic is subject to fungal diseases and pest infestations that can be virtually undetectable until they strike. Prevention is the best way to deal with them. In our experience, garlic that is soaked in certain solutions and with the clove covers peeled off have a better chance of growing free of pathogen or pest.

When your soil is fully ready to be planted, take the bulbs you want to plant and break them apart into their individual cloves (Being sure to keep each variety separate from others. Soak each varieties' cloves in water containing one heaping tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and liquid seaweed to protect them from fungus as well as give them an energy boost. Leave the cloves in the soda water overnight or long enough for the clove covers to loosen so the liquid comes into contact with the surfaces of the cloves. Garlics clove covers can contain fungal spores, or conidia or the eggs of pests such as mites and are best discarded rather than planted since the first thing the cloves do is to shed them, anyway. The baking soda helps neutralize the fungi. Commercial growers don't have time to peel cloves bare but gardeners do.

The cloves should then be soaked in rubbing alcohol or 140 proof vodka for three or four minutes and then planted immediately. The alcohol kills pests and pest eggs and any pathogens the first soaking missed. Every time I have done this, the treated garlic turned out better than the untreated control group. Alcohols are on the National Organic Program accepted list and baking soda is accepted under part 205.605.

Here in central Texas, we plant about 2 to 3 inches deep, with larger varieties going a little deeper in the ground than the smaller varieties. We put them in by hand so we can be sure each clove is properly bedded down. It's a lot of work on our hands and knees, but it's the best way to get the best results. Garlic does not lend itself well to automated planting technology due to the irregular size and shape differences in the cloves. Our beds are 6 in. high and 24 in. wide, we drip irrigate with T-Tapes and cover all with a 3 inch deep mulch to protect from weeds and to hold in the soil moisture, more to act as a barrier to direct sunlight on the soil than for temperature protection. Garlic survives cold quite well as it was designed by nature to grow in the fall, rest in the winter and bulb out in the late spring or early to mid-summer.

Across the northern tier of states garlics leaves do not usually emerge from the ground until spring, although in a warm winter, they will emerge an grow in the winter just as they do in the South or in California. Garlic loves the cold weather but it can be frozen out if the temp drops 10 or 20 below zero-F and stays there for a couple of weeks, but it is rare. During those times when we actually get snow down here, it's a beautiful sight to see all those lush deep green spearlike leaves shooting up abruptly out out of the stark white snow. When you walk out to make sure they're OK, you can almost hear them laughing and frolicking in the snow and singing their song of joy. The garlics allow the grower to join the party, but no one else - it's a private family affair.

Tending the Growing Garlic
Garlic is a naturally very resourceful competitor for available nutrients and will find a way to get what it needs out of the soil it grows in. You don't need a lot of NPK, just a good well balanced soil that is loose enough for the bulb to grow and expand when it is the time for it to do so. Ordinary garden soil with a little manure added a couple of months before planting is great. It doesn't much care for dry, hard packed clayey or thin rocky soils that may restrict its expansion, oh, it will still grow, it just won't get as big. It may; however, have a more intense flavor and store a little longer than the big beautiful ones. Like its cousins, the onions, garlic doesn't like to dry out completely during its growing season as that tends to make it stronger in flavor. A good thing to remember if you like strong garlic.

Professional growers know that size is what sells in this country, no matter what they grow. In a supermarket, most people will buy a larger fruit or garlic rather than a small one and would be surprised to learn that the small one might even taste better. Size in a garlic is determined first by the variety and then by the growing conditions. Some varieties are naturally larger than others - please see our section on Varieties of Garlic for an explanation. After varietal type, the next consideration is soil fertility and the amount and frequency of watering, mostly the watering.

Some growers recommend fertilizing garlic in the early spring to give it a boost just as the foilage gets a good start but before the plant begins to form a bulb, and I think that's usually a good idea. Others say that if your soil is naturally fertile enough you don't even have to fertilize at all during the growing season. If you're not going to do a spring fertilization, we think a foliar spray with a tablespoon each of seaweed, molasses and baking soda in a gallon of water two or three times during the spring helps the garlic finish out its growth, nicely - but do not foliar feed it within a month of harvest. It is a good idea to make sure the garlic is not real dry when you spray as that may not be beneficial to the plants. Foliar spraying should only be done on healthy, well watered plants. Garlic will build a good stand of lush foilage before it begins to swell at its base and form a bulb. Discontinue all fertilization at the first sign of the bulb beginning to swell. If you continue to fertilize beyond the bulbing point, especially with nitrogen, it can cause the leaves to become extra lush at the expense of bulb size.

Garlic likes a slightly moist but not wet soil. If the moisture content of the soil at the root level is below 50%, it is time to water the garlic. If it stays too wet, diseases such as fungus and blight can set in. Few things in nature prey upon garlic as garlic kills or repels most insects, fungi and other things that are problems for most other plants, but the things that bother garlic don't seem to bother much else (except grasshoppers).

Garlic needs to be protected from those diseases by giving it the growing conditions it likes and avoiding those conditions that lead to problems.

Overwatering garlic can lead to some of those problems as can underwatering because any plant that becomes stressed is more likely to develop problems than a plant that is not stressed. If it gets too dry, water it; if it gets too wet and stays that way for a bit too long, pull back some of the mulch and let the soil dry out some before replacing the mulch.

One way to determine the moisture content is to stick your hand down into the root zone feel the soil. If your hand comes out dry, it's time to water; If it is muddy and sticks to your hand, it's too wet. If it stays that way for too long, pull back the mulch and let the ground dry out a bit. Do not water during the last week or two before harvesting your garlic as it is easier to pull or dig garlic out of fairly dry soil than mud, and the garlic will store better.

Credit and Info by : http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com

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