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Old October 11, 2011   #1
lakelady
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Default Growing Garlic in Zone 6

Last year I planted garlic from heads (hardneck Italian something or other)I bought from an organic farmer in NY State at a market, allowed it to grow all winter underground, and then in July harvested a few heads of garlic. It was delicious, but small. I had 4 large cloves on each head. I wondered if I should have waited later to harvest them, but the leaves were dying, so I assumed it was time (we did have a terribly hot July so it could have been a false reading). I didn't do much to the soil, but it was in the garden.

So now I have some garlic I got from Territorial which just arrived last week. A Spanish variety, and a California variety (no idea how they will do in NJ). I am going to re-amend the soil, should I add some amendments to increase root development? I really would like to have more than 4 cloves per head of garlic next year!

Thanks for any suggestions
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Old October 11, 2011   #2
TomNJ
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The number of cloves per head is much more related to the garlic variety than growing conditions. Many people (including me) prefer fewer large cloves than many small cloves, as large fat cloves make easier work when cooking. I like Porcelains and Rocamboles which average about 5-8 fat cloves per bulb. Examples are Russian Red, German White, Estonian Red, Spanish Roja, and Music.

You were correct to harvest in July. The ideal time for home gardeners is to dig the bulbs when there are only about three green or mostly green leaves left, i.e. most of the plant has gone yellow/brown. Leaving them longer will not increase the bulb size and you will lose the bulb wrappers, thus reducing storage.

Bulb size is related to both variety and growing conditions. Garlic does respond to organic soil amendments such as compost, and it likes nitrogen when planting and in the early spring. Experiments have shown that surprisingly garlic size does not respond to additions of phosphorus and potassium like many other bulbs and root crops, but of course you don't want a deficiency of these either. All fertilization should stop by early May.

Garlic is also very sensitive to weeds and sunlight. Be sure to keep them weed free, preferably well mulched, and in full sun. Take care to not break any leaves when working around the plants as this will also reduce bulb size. Garlic plants only have about 10-12 leaves so they need all of these "solar collectors" to flourish.

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Old October 11, 2011   #3
fortyonenorth
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Tom's advice is excellent. Additionally, garlic is somewhat unique in that some varieties take a year or two (or more) to acclimate to new growing conditions. For example, if you purchased seed garlic that was produced on one soil type in Oregon, you might not expect top size bulbs the first year of planting on a different soil type in NJ. I'm not certain of all the factors involved, but this principal is widely recognized by garlic growers and, in my experience, is dependent on variety. I have grown varieties which allegedly produce "very large" heads that have yielded only nuggets in my garden.

The only other thing I would add is that, like other alliums, bulb size is determined by above ground growth before bulb formation begins. Make sure to provide regular and adequate irrigation throughout the spring. Once the bulbs begin to form, you can cut back.
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Old October 13, 2011   #4
lakelady
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Ah, thank you so much. Spanish Roja is one of the varieties I purchased this year. As for last year's garlic, it was grown by an organic farmer in upstate NY, about an hour north of me, so it's in a similar climate if not the same zone. I would have thought to add more phosphorus and potassium! I'll keep the nitrogen in mind and definately will mulch next year, which I did not this year. I didn't mind the little 4 cloves because they were large, but I only planted 6 cloves the previous Fall as an experiment since I'd never grown it before. Obviously, not enough to use for very long in my house!

THANKS!
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