Monday, July 27, 2009

A Bad Year for Garlic

Last year's harvest of garlic, my first, was very successful. We ate our homegrown garlic all winter, right up to mid-June, when I reluctantly bought one head of store-bought to see us through to harvest again. I was so pleased that I have ordered more than twice as much seed garlic to plant this fall.

But this year's crop seemed ill-fated. First, when I received the seed garlic from Johnny's, there was a note that they had detected some fungal infection on the New York White and let them know if any problems developed. Yet it was the German Extra-Hardy that had penicillium mold on them. I violated the first rule of gardening, which is Never plant bad seed. It was so late and the fall weather was so capricious (we did have a very early winter, with snow the week before Thanksgiving), that I just put everything into the ground, including some of my stored garlic.

Not everything came up in the spring. Further, when I first ventured out to the garden after the thaw, quite a few cloves had heaved out of the soil. I pushed them back in, but I don't think it worked. Probably mulching would have helped. Once the plants did come up, many of them were very small. Then we had unusually cool wet weather all June and into July. I harvested the garlic earlier than I wanted to, about mid-July, because the plants were flopping over and I didn't want the bulbs to rot in the ground. The harvested bulbs sat in my garden shed to cure for a couple of weeks before I sorted and cleaned them.

The yield was just under 9 pounds. I estimate that my home-grown garlic cost about $2.50 a pound (seed garlic is expensive). But worse, I saw symptoms of disease on them. I identified the likely cause as a Fusarium immediately because of the pinkish color. Sure enough, Fusarium rot is a known problem on garlic.

I think that most of affected bulbs were the softneck type, New York White. Luckily I didn't order that again this year. I noticed that even after a couple of weeks curing in the shed, the cut stem of the garlic was still moist, a bad idea.

According to an excellent source on garlic cultivation that I just found, stiffneck garlic is most successful in Northern home gardens. Apparently the softneck type (which I have never cared to braid) is easier for market gardeners to plant, but the stiffneck type is hardier.

A difference between stiffneck and softneck is that stiffneck must be pruned of its flower scape in June. Not a problem for me. These yield a delicious bonus - they are good in stir-fries and especially good in scrambled eggs.

The three varieties I've ordered for planting this fall, German Extra-Hardy, Russian Red, and Music, are all (by chance) stiff-neck. I've also found a new source that I might explore.

Meanwhile, I've cleaned the garlic from this year and put it into the driest spot I can find. I hope to beat the fungus to eating it.


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I never even thought of growing my own garlic - it just wasn't one of the things I thought of, and yet, it might make sense for me. Do you think it would work in container gardens? (I could bring the pots in for the winter).

Buttercup said...

I don't think the pots would work. Garlic should basically be grown like daffodils - it needs a long cold period to enable growth the next year. It is should be planted around November 1 in the Ann Arbor area. Then it makes early top growth in the spring.

Some people plant garlic in the spring that has received a cold treatment, like refrigeration. I don't know how well that works but I wouldn't chance it.