After visiting community gardens across the state, and nation, and meeting many wonderful gardeners I am always struck by how many people garden as part of a tradition. Many community gardeners grew up with a garden and no longer have access to a growing area at home. Or, they may have spent summers with relatives who gardened. I have heard many stories of grandparents’ gardens including tales of long harvest days followed by a hot afternoon of canning! I have listened as gardeners compare the garden harvests of their youth – huge tomatoes, prize winning watermelons and unbelievable corn yields – the gardeners equivalent of who caught the biggest fish.
For those of us who enjoy our gardening heritage the Smithsonian has put together a wonderful exhibit on the history of America’s gardens. If you can’t make it to Washington, you can view part of the exhibit on-line. Since the weather is forecast to be rainy and cold this weekend, I recommend spending some time strolling through some old gardens.
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens…they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”
October is prime garlic planting time for the Atlanta area. The bulbs overwinter in the garden and are harvested in the spring. If you don’t traditionally plant winter crops, garlic is a great one to start with.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family. Its use dates back to 4000 BC in central Asia. According to Seed Savers Exchange garlic was found in King Tut’s tomb, eaten by Olympic athletes, and used as medicine by Hippocrates. There are over 600 types of garlic grown all over the world. Why not give it a try?
There are two basic categories of garlic: hard-necked and soft-necked. Georgians have better luck growing soft-necked garlic as the hard-necked ones require the long, cold winters and long, cool springs of more northern climates. There are three types of soft-necked garlic that grow well in Georgia: silverskin, artichoke, and elephant garlic (actually a type of leek). Recommended cultivars include Inchelium Red, California Early, and Chet’s Italian – all artichoke types. If you want to try the silverskin type consider Mild French.
Garlic Production for the Gardener is a useful publication on the types of garlic, planting, and harvesting. Planting involves just a few simple steps. Your local UGA Extension Agent will also have information to help you get started.
Step 1: Start with prepared soil. Garlic needs rich, loose soil with a pH of about 6.5. Make sure you add some compost after removing the summer plants; don’t just pull up spent plants and put the garlic in the ground. If soil test results indicate adding fertilizer, do so. Garlic is a medium-heavy feeder. Nitrogen can be incorporated in the soil before planting, either with traditional fertilizers or bone meal. Side dress in the spring when shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall. Hold off on nitrogen after April 1st because you want to encourage bulb formation not leaf growth.
Step 2: Pull the garlic head apart just before you plant. Use the larger bulbs for best results. Also, leave the skin on the bulb.
Step 3: Plant the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up. Space them about 6-8 inches apart.
Step 4: Be generous with mulch. A generous amount of mulch helps keep the soil moisture and soil temperatures even.
Tops may show through the mulch by the end of October and the bulbs should be well rooted by November. Since October is one of our driest months of the year, irrigation is important at planting. Watering may be needed in early spring, but be careful not to over water. Stop irrigation once the tops begin to dry and fall over.
Garlic should be ready for harvest between mid-May to mid-July. Look for the tops drying and following over. When 1/2 of the tops are in this condition it is time to harvest. Don’t leave the bulbs in the ground too long or they may rot. Be very careful when harvesting not to damage your crop.
Allow the heads to dry in a warm, dry place. Keep them out of direct sunlight. After the garlic has dried store it in a cool, dry, dark place to keep it fresh as long as possible. Garlic braiding is a unique way of storage.
A community garden plot can yield a year’s worth of garlic so you’ll be able to enjoy those delicious Italian meals all year long. Garlic bread, calazones, tomato sauce, garlic chicken….
While at a conference in Traverse City, Michigan, I had the opportunity to meet with some community gardeners from the Traverse City Community Garden. Gary Harper gave me a tour of this organic garden of 150 members.
The first thing I noticed is the lack of disease in the garden. It is early October and it has been unseasonably warm in Michigan. They still had tomatoes and peppers growing and the tomato leaves were spot free.
Gardeners here start their gardens in May and are usually finished by mid-October. They expect a first frost by early October. Their cool-season vegetables were beautiful. I saw knee-high kale so large that it was hard for me to recognize it and there were parsnips that were spectacular.
The gardeners at Traverse City Community Garden do have some of the same concerns that we do in Georgia. Oftentimes, their members lose interest by the end of the season. They are required to give 12 hours per growing season to the upkeep of the common garden and the garden board has a difficult time enforcing that rule. They also have deer! A nine foot electric fence does not always dissuade them. Their #1 pest problem is stink bugs. These bugs are so bad on squash in Northern Michigan, that the gardeners are not allowed to grow squash in their plots.
It was great to see how others interpret a community garden and I am thankful for the time with these new gardening friends.
The weather is perfect to be out in the garden and there are chores to be done! UGA’s Vegetable Garden Calendar give us a to-do list:
Choose the mild weather during this period to plant or transplant the following: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, mustard, onions, radishes, spinach and turnips. Plant your second planting of fall crops such as collards, turnips, cabbage, mustard and kale.
Refurbish mulch to control weeds, and start adding leaves and other materials for the compost pile. Store your manure under cover to prevent leaching of nutrients.
Water deeply and thoroughly to prevent drought stress. Pay special attention to new transplants.
Harvest mature green peppers and tomatoes before frost gets them — it may not come until November, but be ready.