October is in its  second week, bringing the first hard frost to the middle of Connecticut. This seasonal mile stone is my cue to plant garlic. I know, planting anything in mid October seems like the wrong thing to do and a bit backward, but now is the correct time to plant the strong scented bulbs. There are about six weeks left before the ground freezes, giving the garlic ample time to develop a good root system without producing any top growth that will be killed with the freezing weather.

Pick the right spot.

Garlic needs a full sun spot with well drained soil rich in organic matter. Full sun is 6 to 8 hours of sun a day. Add a one inch layer of well rotted manure or compost and mix in with existing soil. Loosen soil to about a foot deep. Have a soil test done to determine pH and nutrient level after compost or manure has been added. Garlic grows best in a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Add lime and any amendments as soil test results recommend.

Break the head of garlic into individual cloves. Leave the papery skins on the cloves. Plant with the root end down and the pointed tip up, three inches into the soil, with each clove spaced six inches apart. A fluffy mulch of straw covering the bed for the winter will provide protection from heaving during the freezing weather. The goal is the encourage root growth this fall, not top green growth until spring.  Once warm spring weather initiates green growth next spring, side dress with a little 5-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of 1/2 pound for 50 garlic plants.

Pick the right garlic.

There are three different types of garlic:   softneck,   hardneck   and elephant. Choosing the correct type to grow for your area will bring the most success.

Soft neck garlic is not well suited to grow through our cold New England winters. It has a soft neck, papery neck of a stem good for braiding. Soft neck garlic is most often the type seen for sale in the grocery stores, shipped in from California where it is grown. Do not plant this in Connecticut.

Hardneck garlic is best suited for New England gardens. It has a hard, almost woody center stem with six to 12 cloves surrounding the central stalk. This type will produce an edible scape that if left on the plant, will produce a flower. The flower will sap strength from the bulb making the cloves smaller. Cut off the scapes before they bloom in May or June. Common hard neck varieties include ‘German White’,  ‘Music’, and ‘Spanish Roja’. Hard neck garlic can be purchased through seed catalogs and most commonly available at farmers’ market during September and October. They are sold to eat, and these can be used as seed stock for planting.

Elephant garlic are very large heads the size of tennis balls with a mild taste.  It is not actually a garlic but closer to the leek family. I have not had much luck getting elephant garlic to live though the winter successfully. Stick with the hard neck varieties!

Harvest and Storage.

During the month of May, the each plant will put up a tall scape with a bud at the tip containing a future flower. As stated earlier, don’t let it flower. Cut the scapes off of the plant about two feet above the ground. The scapes are the first harvest provided from the plants. Garlic scapes are sharp in taste, considered a spring delicacy in stir fries or made into a pesto.

The real harvest of the bulbs comes when the greenery begins to turn yellow and papery. Each above ground leaf is a layer of papery sheath for the cloves below. Handle the plant carefully without damaging the protective paper covering of the head of cloves. When about half of the leaves have turned yellow to brown, harvest the bulbs. Gently dig the heads and lay them in the shade  to dry for two or three days. Protect from night dew to promote the drying. Good airflow is essential. Leave the roots, stalk and leaves on the plant for a month. Set out of the sun, in a covered airy location to cure the garlic. The curing develops the taste and keeping quality.   Do not wash with water. After curing and drying, cut the roots to half inch and bush off any dirt.Garlic can be stored in mesh bags or braided by the stems.


photo by Carol Quish

photo by Carol Quish

Last month I wrote about planting my peas in the vegetable garden. This month they are growing like crazy, already about four inches tall and reaching for the wire  support fence. I planted 16 potato pieces, 150 onion sets, a packet of radish seeds and carrot seeds. After one week in the ground, the onions are showing green tips through the soil and the radish seedlings are popping up. I have picked asparagus twice for dinner this week! I have also hand picked and squished about 100 asparagus beetles which appeared the day the asparagus tips peaked out of the ground. So far, hand picking is the only control measure I have used. I am also crushing the tiny eggs being laid on the spears. I will use insecticidal soap if their numbers continue to rise.

For those of you just starting out in the vegetable gardening adventure, I have made a short list of basics. Experienced veggie gardeners can use it as a short refresher.

Happy gardening!


Vegetable Garden Basics

1. Site/Location – Full sun equals 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Close enough to the house that you will want to go it. Water/hose will reach it.

2. What to grow – what you like and will eat.

3. Size – Start small, 10’ by 10’ will provide vegetables while still being manageable. Too big is overwhelming to weed, water, plant and harvest.

4. Soilwww.soiltest.uconn.edu. Basic home grounds test, a Standard Morgan test. Add amendments as recommended. Compost or aged manure worked well into soil.

5. Plotting area– Single rows, wide rows or blocks. They all work. Tall crops on the north. Track shadows so all plants get sun.

6. Timing – Frost dates. AVERAGE – Last spring frost date in CT is May 15th. First fall frost date in CT is Sept. 15th.

7. Cool Season Crops – seed packet will say “Plant as early as soil can be worked”. A good test to tell if the soil is workable is to make a ball of soil in your hand and poke it with a finger, if it falls apart like chocolate cake crumbles, it is ready. If the soil is too wet, the ball stays together leaving only an indent from finger. Working the soil when it is too wet will ruin the structure of the soil and cause compaction. Cool season crops include shell peas, snow and snap peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, carrots, beets, turnip, radish, potatoes and onions.

8. Warm season crops – seed or transplant info will say “Plant after all danger of frost has past”. This varies from year to year. May 15th is only an average. Watch daily weather reports for frost warnings and dropping overnight temperatures. Warm season crops will be killed by freezing temperatures and frost. Planting warm season crop transplants in cold soil will stunt the roots. Warm season seeds placed in cold soil will not germinate until a higher soil temp is reached. Warm season crops include tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, squash, melons and beans.

9. Water – Vegetables need one to two inches of water per week by rain or hose. Feel the soil down where the roots are located. If it is dry, water it. Soaker or trickle hoses are best. They provide a slow, deep watering. Shallow watering keeps the roots up near the surface where it is hotter and dries out quicker. Deep roots make better plants. Keep foliage dry; apply water in the morning, never in the evening. Wet foliage invites fungal disease.

10. Feed –Fertilize when transplanting or when seeds grow into plants with two sets of leaves. Use manure or packaged vegetable fertilizers with balance nutrients such as 10-10-10. Side dress when plants begin to flower and set fruit by again applying fertilizer lightly a few inches away from plants. Follow label directions. Do not over-fertilize as this can harm plants and add to polluted waterways.

11. Weeds – Get weeds out. They compete with and steal nutrients and water away from vegetable plants. Hand pull weeds while still small. Cultivate weekly or more often, by hoeing or scratching the surface to one inch deep of garden soil discouraging weed growth around vegetable plants. Apply mulch around plants, but not touching plants, to block light to weed seeds in soil. This stops their germination. Straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves and pine needles are all good mulches.

12. Insects – If you find an insect in the garden, identify it. It may be a good guy providing pollination or predation on the bad guys. Look it up in a book or contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center for correct ID. You can call or email us.

13. Harvest – Pick produce when ripe. Not picking tells the plant its job in life is done. It has produced a fruit containing a seed and then it will die. Leaf crops will send up a seed stalk. Continuing to remove fruits and leaves will keep the plant trying to make more seed, therefore providing us with more produce.