Garlic is a wonderful aromatic that can be used as a spice to enhance many winter stews, sauces and dishes. Many people will add it to many raw dishes such as salad dressings, salsas and slaws. Different varieties of garlic have a great taste, but many people have not tasted them if they buy it in the grocery store. The garlic that you can buy in the store has been said to be 75% as a soft neck variety and mild in flavor. Plant your own this year and enjoy the hearty taste of German varieties, Chesnook red garlic, Fireball (purple shell) and Purple Italian garlic.
Garlic is one thing that you can plant in October in Santa Fe. The colder climates can have garlic growing over the winter due to the temperatures needed to start the growing process and then the heat to form bulbs. Most people plant after the first frost, which is usually October 15th in northern New Mexico. Plant by Halloween as an easy date to remember and you will harvest by the Fourth of July.
What is garlic?
Garlic is in the Lily Family with a Latin name of Allium sativum and is similar to onions, shallots and leeks. It reproduces from itself so find a garlic that you enjoy. You can also plant shallots and onion sets in the fall. Local nurseries will have these dried items to start.
Garlic grows well in New Mexico because it needs a higher pH of 5.5-7.0 and most soil is alkaline at pH of 7.0 in the area. It also can be grown in full sun with partially drained soil. The temperature that is needed to start growing is 45-60 degrees in the fall and then 75 degrees when forming bulbs in the summer in the desert.
Why the plant in the fall?
Garlic is hard to start in warm weather. It does not compete well with weeds so fall is a better time to plant once it freezes and weeds are gone. It needs the cooler weather to start growing, even though you can buy starts and have them grow. The taste is also improved with the cold winter and the hot summer before it is harvested in July.
The seed is a clove of garlic. This can be from a head of garlic. Be careful where you buy the head of garlic. I have seen a statistic that 75% of garlic is imported and will be a soft neck variety with mild flavor. It is important not to purchase garlic to grow at the grocery store, unless it is organic and they list the variety. There are two main types of garlic, hard neck and soft neck.
Hard Neck Garlic- Large cloves, fewer on each head
Soft Neck Garlic- Smaller cloves, more on each head and has a longer storage life
Purchase your garlic from a trusted grower that either uses organic methods or a no-chemical approach like biodynamic farming. You can also purchase seed garlic from a nursery that has picked the larger cloves of garlic to produce a larger yeild. Check with your favorite nursery to get local garlic. In Santa Fe,Plants of the Southwest has a wide variety of different hard neck and soft neck garlic. The size of the garlic cloves is important. The large cloves will grow smaller when reproduced so look for a larger head. Buying garlic at a seed company will also provide a higher growing level to your planting, but is more expensive. These have produced better garlic crops in New Mexico. There is a store in Colorado that focuses on garlic and the Seed Savers Exchange.
Where to Plant?
- The space will be planted until July, so make sure that you can provide that much space in your garden. You will not be able to plant spring crops there.
- The cloves will be 6″ apart. Measure the space with a ruler (or measure your hand for 6″) to spread out to estimate.
- Companion Plants- cabbage, beets, lettuce (deters aphids) and squash (may deter squash bugs)
- Not Companion Plants- Beans, peas and potatoes
Garlic needs drained soil. Till it with a broad fork or garden fork. Add compost at a higher rate than for the warm weather vegetables. You can add 50% compost or manure to the soil before planting the garlic.
Once the ground freezes in mid-December, cover your garlic bed with 4″-6″ of straw.
Once the weather is warm enough to move the soil, you can start watering your garlic again. Leave the straw on until April so that it stays warm under the mulch. Check the garlic before watering to make sure that it needs it. You can place an index finger in the ground and see if it is wet at the tip.
When the top leaves are drooping and brown and it is 1/3 looking dying it is time to harvest the garlic. The Fourth of July is a good date for your harvesting calendar for Santa Fe. You can always check the garlic by digging (do not pull it!) around the garlic and seeing if the heads have formed. When you harvest, make sure that you dig around the head and pull it out with dirt. You can remove the dirt and store for three weeks before eating. Tie the tops together and hang in a porch or garage. Enjoy the garlic!