Saturday, August 1, 2015

Critters, Garlic, and Sunshine

First the critters. We've identified two. One is our really close neighbor, the woodchuck, or groundhog. Just a few feet from the southeast corner of our garden at the Historic Barns Park, there's a typical groundhog hole that keeps growing in size, perhaps adding on an extra bedroom and bath in anticipation of a growing family. I'll have to admit that I admire the perseverance of the inhabitant, as the ground in that area is so heavily compacted that I can't get digging fork tines into it deeper than about 3 to 4 inches, yet the spoil from the hole is accumulating rapidly. Here's a heavily cropped photo, just good enough to show an eye peering out at us, waiting for us to leave so that 'lunch' will be unguarded. 

The second invading critter is, as we suspected, a deer that appears to enjoy the challenge of a perimeter fence with the top wire about 8 feet above ground. Hoof prints where there were once healthy beet plants provide conclusive evidence. In both cases, the prosecution rests. Now it's up to us to take appropriate countermeasures against these habitual offenders, at least before next year's garden gets underway.

Ah, but the critters don't bother the garlic, so there's a story of success and further promise to be told. Yesterday, I dug the first of this year's Spontaneo (a Northern Italian porcelain hardneck variety) in my home garden, planted 10/11/2014. It looks quite good, although not quite as large as usual. The bulbs, mostly with 5 cloves each, will average a little under 2.5 inches in diameter. On the same day I planted last year's cloves, I planted about 70 bulbils from a couple plants on which I had allowed the scapes to grow to full height and produce flower heads.

The following numbered photo series illustrates my experiment in propagating garlic cloned from a single parent plant. In case you're thinking of trying this, warning: patience required.

1 - Raise garlic as usual, but allow some to produce bulbils. First dry freshly harvested hardneck garlic bulbs in a shady location with good air circulation (e.g., a garage), then store it in a dark place or a paper bag (prevent premature sprouting). Select the best of the bulbs for planting. Separate those into individual cloves and plant in early autumn, about 6 inches apart and 2 inches deep, and mulch with a few inches of straw. (Here at about 45 degrees north latitude, I get good results from planting in early October.) 
2 - As those garlic plants grow during the summer, their flower stalks ("scapes"} begin to curl. At that time, about the first of July here, remove and use most of these; they're juicy and delicious, and their removal generally results in somewhat larger bulbs.
3 - To propagate from bulbils, allow a scape or two to remain. It will straighten upward and grow to form a flower head in which its bulbils grow. We tie our straightening scapes loosely to bamboo stakes to make sure they don't blow over.
4 - A single flower head of our porcelain garlic typically produces 70-100 bulbils about the size of grains of wheat. When they're clearly loosening in the flower head, gently remove them and spread them out to dry right along with the year's harvest of garlic bulbs. Once dry, they will keep until spring if needed.
5 - Plant the bulbils an inch or so apart, about 1/2 inch deep, at your preferred garlic planting time. Mulch lightly with straw. Keep carefully weeded the following spring; it can be difficult to tell the tiny garlic leaves from blades of grass.
6 - Carefully dig and dry the small single 'rounds' of garlic the following year at harvest time; I dug mine yesterday. Most are between 3/8 and 1/2 inch in diameter. I planted about 70 bulbils last year and found 55 rounds this summer; I could easily have missed a few smaller ones in sifting through the soil. I'll dry these and replant an inch or so deep this fall, hoping for some multi-clove bulbs next year and larger ones the year after that. 

As soon as I get this posted, I'll be out enjoying the lovely sunny evening. Yes, we need rain, predictions of which have been grossly exaggerated of late, and yes, that and the heat have adversely affected our gardens this summer. But blue skies smile as we hold the garden hose, ever so grateful that our friends at SEEDS have led the way to installation of a strong, reliable, solar-powered water system for their garden and ours.

How wonderful is the sunshine!

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