Monday, 24 January 2011

No Dig No Weed Gardening - Garlic

Gardening without digging and weeding sounds a bit unlikely. A bit like smoking without inhaling, you wonder what else there is?  But with a little planning you can make your gardening life easier, avoiding that back breaking digging and  tedious weeding. I'm all in favour of spending less garden  time digging and weeding and more  in the deck chair. If I had a deck chair that is.

We use enough garlic around here to keep Christopher Lee cowering in a corner, so really, I should plant it in late Autumn. More or less as soon as you've gathered one year's crop, you can decide which cloves will make good seed garlic for next year, and get them in as soon as you have a spare space.  Always pick the fattest cloves for replanting, and with a mixture of natural selection and gardener's selection, you will improve your seed stock year on year, eventually producing almost your own variety, perfectly suited to your own soil and your particular climate. You can do this with many crops of course, provided you don't use modern F1 hybrid seeds, which don't breed true, but with garlic it's particularly easy because the bit you eat also happens to be  the bit you plant.  

For such a mediterranean crop you'd think they would suffer in the average freezing cold wet English winter, but not a bit of it. They sit there in the ground all winter, putting down good roots, and then in the spring they happily shoot up, apparently none the worse.
But for the last two years, I find January arriving and the garlic is still not in the ground. Oh dear. Happily last year was a very good growing year, and my crop was still excellent, - if you don't get good results make sure that weeds are not the culprit  spoiling your crop. Because it's a long season crop it's very easy to plant garlic and forget it, and before you know it the bed is full of weeds which are awkward and time consuming to get out, and if you don't get them out you will drastically reduce the crop. Ask me how I know.

Anyway, before any more of my garlic found its way into winey beef casseroles or ground onto crusty bread, I thought I'd take the opportunity afforded by a day or two of watery winter sun to plant out this year's crop.

They're very quick to plant if you already have established raised beds - just select a nice weed free area,  lay out the cloves in rows using a bamboo cane as a guide - mine were about 6 inches apart, and about a foot between the rows, and when you're happy with the layout just go along the rows planting them with your trowel so that the top of the clove is just covered with soil  Raised beds are best because you can work from the sides, - walking on the soil at this time of year compacts and damages its structure  I don't dig my established beds at all any more, adding as much organic matter as I can during the year seems to keep it in good heart, and not treading on it with my size sevens in the winter  helps maintain structure and drainage. If you're starting from scratch with a new garden, you will need to get rid of the nastier perennial weeds like ground elder first, but if you're thorough this is a one time dig.

Straight rows look nicer and make weeding easier, but I've reduced this job to a minimum here as the garlic bed is the first to receive the many offerings from the lawn mower in our garden. The garlic will be growing well by the time you start cutting the grass, so use the first lawn mowings to mulch the garlic bed, making sure you cover every inch of visible earth with the mowings. The grass gradually rots down and enriches the soil, smothering weed seedlings at the same time. Keep it topped up during the year and you'll be feeding your crop, enriching your soil, and saving yourself all that tedious weeding at the same time. Oh and if it turns out to be a humdinger of a summer it will also cut down on watering needs too.

Maybe this year I'll treat myself to a deck chair.

13 comments:

  1. I love growing garlic. I planted some in an old canner with holes in the bottom and grew eight nice bulbs.

    I forgot to plant them last fall too, so I'll probably do the same thing this year --- or do the raised bed thing, if we get them built. Thanks for the tips!

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  2. Good idea! Never thought of mulching with the first grass cuttings.

    I forgot the garlic too, so will have to get new, it wasn't stored properly. :(

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  3. Sounds like I could try growing garlic in a container...I live in an apartment, with a cement patio.

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  4. Dear Kathy, A garlic bed...what luxury and how I should love to have one as I so adore garlic in anything. This year it is to be tried out in a large pot, although there are shops in Maida Vale!!

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  5. Fingers crossed we'll get a good year for garlic and you'll get a great crop.

    I was out planting garlic myself on Sunday. I planted some small shop bought cloves in December, as an experiment (they were just too small and fiddly to use easily) and I bought some organic garlic 'Flavor' which was what I planted on Sunday.
    I love the idea of developing my own garlic strain, perfectly suited to our soil. I'll need to few years to see how that idea works out.
    The grass mulch tip is one I'll try to remember - thanks.

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  6. Planted mine the first week of November and they are up aout two inches just last week. I love garlic!

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  7. I am going to follow your lead.....
    nice to get back to planting eh?

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  8. Good to see someone else does it like us ;-)

    Any tops on how to keep the previous year's crop edible? We've tried pickling some this year and freezing some mashed up with olive oil, but I don't really like vinegary things and the frozen stuff has just gone solid - the idea of it being in oil was that you could just take a tsp at a time out when needed - ha ha.

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  9. That sounds like an excellent use of space Nancy, I like it.

    Indeed Sharon, you do have to make sure it's stored in a nice dry place after harvest. We live and learn!

    Hello Theane - see Nancy's idea above, I've never tried garlic in containers before but it does sound perfectly do-able. Thanks for commenting.


    Hello Edith, and welcome back, see Nancy's comment above about growing in containers. I'm sure it's well worth a try.

    Hello Ferris, I know lots of people just use garlic they get in the shops and get good results too.

    Doc, you are just so organized!

    Hi John, yes it's amazing how each year you get that can't wait to get out there feeling at this time of the year. Let's hope it's a good growing year.

    Hi Choclette - I know the problem. I must admit that I still use my stored garlic even when it has the little green shoots in the middle. I just dig them out with the point of my knife and discard before use. Maybe you could freeze the puree in ice cube trays or similar - just make sure you don't use it for ice later though, even I draw the line at garlic gin and tonic!

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  10. Thanks for the nudge about planting garlic. Have left the veg plot to fend for itself, but find myself enthused after reading blogs such as yours. Good idea about the grass clippings, and also thought I would mulch with the straw from the floor of the sheep barn to cut down on weeding. All I now have to do is find a way of banning the chickens from rooting about in it!

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  11. Very inspiring and informational. How do you get your first crop in the ground? Do you buy it from a special place or can you use store bought garlic cloves? I have no idea as you can see.--Inger

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  12. I’ve never grown garlic but I would love to. I like the idea of mulching with the first grass clipping too :)

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  13. Hi Vera, yes I find reading other people's efforts helps to enthuse me too. good idea of using the barn straw for mulching, anything to keep those dratted weeds down.

    Hi Inger, yes there are a few specialist companies supplying seed garlic, and I think that's where I originally got mine, but it was quite a few years ago, so I've forgotten. But I do know that lots of people swear by just using what they've bought from the supermarket in the normal way. Definately worth a go because it's so easy and cheap to do.

    Hi Verde Farm, I would definately encourage you to have a go, you can hardly fail with garlic if you plant it early, and keep the weeds down. One of the best plants for beginner veg gardeners. Kathy

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