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Falling For Garlic

This week The Real Dirt is featuring a guest blog from Patrick, Community Gardens Operations Coordinator. Patrick grew up in Wisconsin, and from day one wanted to be outside whenever possible. While earning his degree from the University of Montana, Patrick enrolled in the PEAS Farm class, and couldn’t give it up – staying for two semesters and a summer session. Through the PEAS Farm and his Environmental Studies Program classes, he’s decided he wants to keep working on local food efforts now that he has earned his degree. When he’s not digging in the dirt, he is hiking, biking or fishing with his dog, Lola.


Fall can mean a sudden change of pace for those of us who spend time working in the dirt.  Our lives as well as those in our gardens undergo some major changes as we transition from the warmth of summer into Missoula’s cool and dark winter.   For many of us, this is a bittersweet time.  We will miss our time in the garden, fresh picked meals, and chatting with fellow gardeners.  But winter also offers a chance to reflect on the past season, plan for the next, and hunker down with a warm winter dish.

An oddball in our fall routine of closing our gardens down, putting our storage foods up, and settling into a new schedule is garlic.  This time of year, when all of our crops are reaching the end of their lives, or have already passed, another round of garlic is getting ready to grow.  We plant our garlic in the fall to overwinter so that it can begin to grow as soon as weather permits in the following spring.  Garlic can also be planted in the early spring as soon as the ground is workable.  However, bulb production seems to be greater when fall planted.  Also, fall planting is simply a much welcomed change of pace from our usual fall routines.

Planting Garlic

When planting garlic we do not plant seeds, we plant individual cloves.  The first step then is to harvest and cure your previous garlic crop.  Read Emy’s blog post about harvesting and curing for more details.

Since we produce our next garlic crop asexually through cloning, we want to make sure to choose the right cloves to plant for next year.   We want to choose cloves that exhibit traits that we like, and would like to continue to see in our crop.   So we don’t plant small cloves or cloves from heads that have rotten, because we don’t want small or rotting heads next season.  After the garlic has been cured, choose the cream of the crop; good looking cloves with desirable traits.

Choose cloves with desirable traits.
Choose cloves with desirable traits.

If you did not grow garlic this year, don’t worry!  Simply use garlic that you normally buy from the farmers market or grocery store.  (It is best to save cloves from a local garlic source, as you can be sure that they will grow well in Missoula!)

Once you have your chosen cloves, keep them in a dark, dry space until late fall.  I normally plant garlic in late October when the weather is getting cold yet the ground is still workable.  Garlic can be planted pretty close together; I usually plant cloves about 5-6 inches apart.  Make sure that the cloves are planted root end down, and cover with soil.photo-4

Your next round of garlic is now underway for next season!  Cover your garlic beds with a significant amount of straw.  The straw will help keep weeds down and also balance out temperature fluxes in the soil surface.photo-1

Next spring when things start to warm up, start pulling back/removing a portion of the mulch.  Leave some mulch in place as weed suppression (garlic has a small leaf area and is a poor competitor against weeds), but do be aware as too much mulch can cause rotting at the base.

Emy Scherrer
Community Gardens Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at Garden City Harvest
Emy grew up on the rainy shores of Bellingham Bay, Washington, where she spent her youth gardening with her mom, grandma, neighbors and friends. Her love of the American West, and the Pacific Northwest in particular, led to her undergraduate degree in American folk art from Western Washington University. She later pinpointed her passion in historic preservation and the community development associated with saving historically and culturally significant places. She received her M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Oregon in 2015 and quickly moved to Missoula to settle down a bit, adopt a husky, build a chicken coop, start a garden, and enjoy all the great things about this amazing place.

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