We planted our first for-market crop this year, stiffneck garlic.
For planting the garlic we set aside the 1/8-acre, 50′ x 100′ plot that hosted most of our garden this year. Originally we wanted to plant ten 100′ beds that were 5′ off center. But when we measured the plot it had somehow shrunk to less than 45′. So we re-marked the boundaries, Chris plowed the whole thing, and then used the plow to make the ten beds.
As I raked the top of the beds to level them out, I decided that the two beds in the part that was newly plowed were too rough and grassy to use, so we ended up only planting eight of them. But that should be plenty. We planted the cloves four across, spaced 8" in each direction, making for 600 plants per bed or 4800 plants total.
Above you can see the beds covered in plastic, still to be planted. We used 5′ wide agricultural plastic, $30 per 2000′ roll. We used 800 feet.
It’s simple enough to lay this stuff out. We put a length of metal conduit through the center of the roll, then had Maggie and Matthew stand on one end while Chris and I unrolled the plastic down the length of a bed. At each end and periodically along the row we shoveled dirt onto the sides to hold it down. Eventually we will mulch the paths between the beds with sorghum pomace, which will both hold down the weeds and make for great fertitity when we plow it all under once the garlic is grown.
The dirt does pretty well at holding the plastic in place, but even a stiff breeze can get under it and blow it away. After we had laid it, we prayed that the winds would stay away until we got the garlic planted. They held off, and now the holes we made in the plastic while planting let the wind pass through.
Agricultural plastic is a great mulch; it suppresses weeds around the plants, warms the ground, and keeps moisture in. And when it rains enough water soaks through the holes to feed the plants. But watering by hand is a pain; I know, because this is how we did the sweet potatoes this year, and those three short beds took quite a while to water. So when you use plastic it is good to lay drip irrigation tape underneath it so you can water the plants.
The drip tape goes on the beds before the plastic. I didn’t get a picture of that, but imagine that on top of each bed there are two 100′ long strips of plastic tape spaced 16 inches apart, so that each one will run between two rows of garlic plants. The tape is pretty cheap ($30 for 1000′) and reusable. It is a flattened cylinder of plastic, with holes every four or twelve inches that will let water escape. You lay it out as you would piping, using very clever plastic connectors to piece the strips of tape together. Then you send water through it, which slowly oozes out and moistens the ground around the plants.
What you see in the above picture is a piece that will connect a garden hose to a piece of tape. The short piece of tape connects to a T-connector, which connects to longer pieces of tape going out to the beds on either side. There are more connections under each sheet of plastic which feed the water to the 100′ strips of tape running down the beds.
We laid out one system with 16 100′ tapes for the eight beds, then put water through it and waited. The pressure wasn’t quite enough to get the water to the furthest ends of the system, so in the spring we will add a few connectors and break it into two systems of 8 tapes each.
You may recall that we had to scramble to get the garlic in before our first freeze arrived. It wasn’t critical to avoid the freeze; we could be planting now and it would still be OK, although our hands would probably complain mightily about working the frigid ground. But it was a good goal, and we made it.
We planted by marking the plastic first, then going along with buckets of popped garlic cloves and planting them by tearing a hole in the marked plastic, pushing the dirt aside with either a trowel or a hand, seating a clove, then smoothing the dirt over. Do that 4800 times and you’re done.
We planted three varieties of garlic. Mostly it was Spanish Roja that we obtained from Jerome. Because we want to try making and selling garlic braids, we also planted two varieties of porcelain garlic, which produces a whiter, cleaner-looking bulb wrapper. The Spanish Roja was first to make its appearance, but the porcelain is also up now. A few weeds have appeared as well; some sunny afternoon I’ll make a pass down the rows and pull them out.
We planted the usual way, popping the cloves and planting them individually. For a couple of years Jerome has done it differently, saving time by planting the entire head and then going back later and thinning to three or four plants per spot. We had the time to plant individual cloves, but I am thinking about going back and replanting twenty or so spots with whole heads. I’ve read that you can use immature garlic just as you would a scallion, and so I’m wondering if you could plant a head, not thin them, and harvest the 8-10 plants for scallions before crowding becomes a problem.