Gardening with Kitty: Grow Your Own Garlic

IMG_20141029_101636Garlic is a pretty low-maintenance crop. It chills in the ground for ten months or so and then rewards you with pungent, juicy cloves that you’ll be tempted to snack on right out of the ground. They smell that good. And they taste even better…

Notice the paws in the picture above? This post was meant to be about planting garlic in a container. But when I went out to my porch, my cat followed me outside to see what sort of hijinks I was up to. And then she proceeded to poke her adorable kitty nose into every shot.

So now this post is about planting garlic in a container and entertaining your cat in the process. For our cat, a morning spent on the porch planting funny, smelly things was great entertainment. If you have a cat, may I suggest including him or her in the fun?

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Garlic can be planted from early October to early November. And for those of you in apartments or condos like me, you don’t have to forgo this succulent allium, it’s all in the soil prep.

Alliums can be susceptible to fungal issues. However, if you provide sufficient drainage and healthy soil, you will be in good shape. Don’t be tempted to dig up some soil from outside. Regular garden soil will compact in a container and hold too much water.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • A container apx. 1 foot wide and 1.5 feet tall, with holes in the bottom for drainage
  • A good lightweight potting mix, if you can find one with coco coir- it is an excellent ingredient that won’t hold too much moisture
  • Seed garlic from a reputable nursery or online seed source- Yes, you can buy it at a grocery store, but it may very likely harbor disease. Also you will need to choose between hardneck or softneck garlic. (I like the hardneck varieties because they tend have larger cloves and be a bit more flavorful. However, the softneck varieties store better and braid nicely.)
  • A good even-numbered organic fertilizer. You don’t want to push too much growth early on here, but garlic likes fertile soil, so you want it to be there when your garlic needs it. And YES please use a complete organic fertilizer. It provides micro-nutrients and secondary macro-nutrients besides the big 3 (Nitrogen-Phosporus-Potassium).

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Planting:

Fill your container to 2″ from the top. Then poke little holes in the soil about 4″ apart, and a couple inches from the edge of the container.

Take apart your cloves, and try to preserve the papery covering. This will help protect the cloves from rot. Now place them in the soil about 3″ down, and cover back up. Remember, pointy side up!

At this point, following the application rates on the container, you can mix some fertilizer in. And, if your container is somewhere under cover, you want to water a little and keep it evenly moist. (Moist not wet) For those containers on open decks/patios, you will probably have plenty of rain to keep your garlic happy.

And now you’re finished until Spring…

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On Fertilizing and Be-Heading:

In the spring, you can start feeding your garlic with a high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks. I like to side-dress it with a little blood meal or bat guano as well. If you’re growing hardneck garlic, be sure to cut off the scapes when they form. This will re-direct energy back down to the bulb. And besides, scapes are delicious! Around this time, early summer is when I lay off with the fertilizer.

When Do I Make Pesto?

Okay, how to know when the garlic is ready. This is important, if you leave the cloves in the ground too long, they will lose that awesome papery covering that’s so great for storage. But you don’t want to pick too early, or your cloves will be too small. When the leaves start to turn brown, contain your excitement. Wait until there are oh, about six or so green leaves left on the plant. Then you can dig up your garlic and enjoy!

Any questions? Have you grown garlic in containers before? Any hot tips? I’d love to hear about them. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments below…

 

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