Ron Kujawski: Time to plant wonderful, multi-purpose garlic

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Garlic is perhaps the most useful of vegetables. It is a key ingredient in all cuisines; it has medicinal properties; it wards off vampires; and it can help clear a crowded room in no time at all. Maybe best of all, it is easy to grow — and now is the time to plant garlic.

Local retail garden centers should have garlic bulbs in stock. Otherwise, there are numerous sources that can be found with a quick Google search online. The first thing you'll note when shopping for garlic is that there are two basic types: softneck and hardneck. Softneck is the type you get at the supermarket and is commonly grown in warm climates, such as in California and Mexico, though many softneck varieties can be grown locally. Hardneck garlic gets its name from the stiff stalk, called a scape, which arises from the center of the developing bulb. This type of garlic is hardier than the softnecks and is most widely grown in the cooler regions of the country. By the way, elephant garlic is not a true garlic, but is a different species, closely related to leeks. Its flavor is much milder than that of true garlic.

The basic site requirements for growing garlic are: minimally 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight, well-drained soils high in organic matter, and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7. Before planting, I always work in an organic fertilizer at a rate listed on the product label. Alternatively, a general purpose garden fertilizer, such as one with an analysis of 10-10-10, can be incorporated into the soil at a rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden area. If soils are heavy, that is, drain slowly, mound soils into raised beds.

To plant garlic, keep in mind that size matters. That is, the largest cloves will produce the largest bulbs. When shopping for garlic, buy the bulbs with the largest cloves. Keep the bulbs intact until the day of planting. At that time, separate the cloves, leaving the papery skins intact. Plant each clove, blunt end down, with the top about 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Space the cloves 6 inches apart in rows 15 inches apart. In small gardens, garlic can be planted in beds, with the cloves spaced 6 to 8 inches apart in checkboard fashion. Once soil begins to freeze, place a 3-inch deep layer of straw or shredded leaves over the planted garlic.

By next July, you'll be dining on freshly harvested garlic and clearing crowded rooms with a single deep breath and exhale.



WHAT, MORE TASKS?!

Take a deep breath and get to work on these gardening tasks:

- Prepare spring planting beds for roses and other perennials this fall. Turn over the soil deeply, about 10 to 12 inches, and enrich the soil with compost or old manure.

- Create little pockets of bloom by planting groups of 10 to 15 bulbs of species tulips, such as Tulipa tarda, Tulipa clusiana, Tulipa turkestanica and Tulipa biflora among rocks, in front of small shrubs or between buttressed roots of a large tree. Protect these and other small bulbs from rodents by planting them in wire cages made of half-inch mesh hardware cloth and buried about 4 inches below ground.

- Include ornamental allium in your fall bulb planting plans. Alliums are adaptable to most growing conditions, have almost no pest or disease problems, and are avoided by deer and rabbits. For a late, long-blooming allium — mid-July through August — consider Allium Millenium, recently named by the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2018. At 1 feet tall and with large rose-purple flowers, it matches up well with short goldenrod species in the mid-summer landscape. That particular combination is very attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.

- Pot up amaryllis bulbs, one per pot, and keep them in a dark location until new growth begins.

- Recycle leaves by composting them, placing them around plants as a mulch (shred them first with your lawn mower), or by working them into garden soils.

- Add elemental sulfur, sold at retail garden centers or farm supply stores, to the soil where blueberries, azaleas and other acid-loving plants are growing. Have your soil tested to determine how much to add. Soil samples can be sent to the University Soils Testing Lab or a simple pH testing kit can be purchased at the stores mentioned.

- Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when they have fully developed their colors and the rinds are hard. Do not leave these in the garden if a hard freeze is predicted. The light frost of early October should not have affected pumpkins and squash. After harvest, wipe down winter squash and pumpkins with a mild bleach solution, i.e. one part bleach to 10 parts water, to kill any bacteria or fungi on the rinds. This helps them keep longer and better. After curing, store them in any cool, dry, dark spot.

- Remember to take precautions when working outdoors and to conduct daily tick checks. Deer tick populations are high at this time of year.

- Wait until the onset of freezing temperatures before attempting to remove the paper nests of bald-faced hornets, wasps and yellowjackets. Except for the queen, the rest of the colony will perish with the frigid temperatures.

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