With a break in the rainy weather and a forecast of freezing nights ahead this week, we took last Saturday as our best window of opportunity to plant the garlic for next season. In New England garlic should be planted in October or early November, but this year's incessant rains and muddy fields have made it difficult to prepare a field for planting. And once the soil surface freezes, it is impossible to plant.
Garlic is a very expensive and labor intensive crop to grow. As a result, the majority of garlic consumed in the US is now imported from China. Garlic is also the least productive crop that we grow. Each bulb of the northern hardneck garlic that we grow has an average of only five cloves. That means that in perfect conditions we would need to save 20% of the crop to seed the next year's crop. In a poor garlic year like this, more than half of the harvest can sometimes need to be saved for seeding the next year's crop.
Garlic cannot be planted in New England too early. If planted too early the plant could emerge and then get killed by frigid temperatures. The secret is to plant the garlic late enough that it will not emerge this year, but early enough that it will send out a good amount of roots before the ground freezes. To ensure that the soil remains warm enough that the root system develops before winter, later this week when it is dry enough again, we will spread a 3 inch layer of leaves on the garlic patch to insulate the ground a little and trap the ground warmth long enough to allow the garlic to establish a good root system before the ground freezes solid this winter. In the spring we will pull back at least some of the leaves to ensure that the garlic can emerge.