Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity

Silverwhite Silverskin garlic
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity

(How garlic adapts to its locality)

It’s garlic harvest season for many of us and I notice many growers are searching my site for information. Here are quick links.

Garlic signs of maturity from October 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic includes all the links listed below here.

Much about garlic is to be found in my Alliums for the Month Series:

Garlic harvest.
Photo Twin Oaks Community
Other posts about garlic, starting with harvest:
Pulling garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

Phenotypic Plasticity

Phenotypic plasticity of garlic refers to the changes to a garlic variety grown in a particular location. Genetically identical garlics can grow differently in different environments. Garlic reproduces asexually, the new cloves are all clones of the mother plant, with no new genetic material introduced. And yet, over time, garlic saved and regrown each year in a certain locality will adapt itself to that location, due to the particular soil type, water availability, local temperatures, latitude, altitude and cultural practices. For example, studies have shown that varieties grown in drought-prone areas can, over years, develop more drought-tolerance. Commercial cultivars can have the highest bulb yield under well-watered conditions, but drought will show up the adapted strains in a comparison trial.

Garlic Plants
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

We have been growing our own strain of hardneck garlic for over 30 years, and it does really well here. Originally the seed stock was a bag of garlic from the wholesale vegetable market. This is the very thing we are told not to do, as it may introduce pests and diseases. Indeed, it may, but our original folly is now deep in the past, and we have fortunately seen no problem.

I was reminded about phenotypic plasticity, when a friend and neighboring grower reported that the seed garlic we had passed on to her was doing well and was mature a couple of weeks before the variety she normally grows.

From the 2004 work of Gayle Volk et al, Garlic Seed Foundation analyzing 211 garlic accessions, we have learned that there are many fewer genetically distinct varieties of garlic than there are named varieties. Of the 211 accessions in that trial, only 43 had unique genotypes. But garlic shows high biodiversity and ability to adapt to its environment. The same garlic genotypes in different environmental conditions can show different phenotypes. This demonstrates the high phenotypic plasticity of garlic, probably linked to its complicated genetics, which somehow compensate for lack of sexual reproduction.

Work done in 2009 by Gayle Volk and David Stern, Phenotypic Characteristics of Ten Garlic Cultivars Grown at Different North American Locations  addressed the observation that garlic varieties grown under diverse conditions have highly plastic environmental responses, particularly in skin color and yield. This is a very readable paper for non-academic readers. Ten garlic varieties were grown at twelve locations in the United States and Canada for two consecutive years to identify phenotypic traits of garlic that respond to environmental conditions. The purpose of the study was to determine which phenotypic traits are stable and which vary with location.

Inchelium Red softneck garlic – note the small cloves in the center.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • Clove number, weight and arrangement, clove skin coloration, clove skin tightness and topset number, size and color stay true to variety independent of location.
  •  Mostly, varieties classified as hardneck types produced scapes and those classified as softnecks did not, but there were some exceptions.
  • Bulb size, bulb wrapper color and bulb elemental composition (flavor) are related to location, (the influence of the local environment, such as the weather in that production year and the soil mineral content), rather than variety. The intensity of the skin patterns is highly dependent on the location. Some general trends were noted, but no clear correlation was found. (Read the study for the details).
  • For good size, predictably colored and flavored garlic, buy seed garlic grown locally that yields well. When garlic is grown in similar conditions to those in which it was produced, yields can remain consistent or improve.

    Our softneck garlic in May.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  • Varieties that grow well thousands of miles away are not a guarantee of a good result in your garlic patch. They may not match the bulb size, shape, color and flavor listed in the catalogs.
  • When grown under the same environmental conditions, the leaf number before bolting, flowering date, the final stem length, the flower/topset ratio, and pollen viability vary from one variety to another.
  • Studies that compared bulb firmness, pH, soluble solids, moisture content and sugar content with appearance determined that many of these traits are independent of skin color across 14 garlic varieties.
  • Bulb size was highly dependent on growth location with northern sites producing larger bulbs overall than southern sites for at least half of the trial varieties. Regional differences between varieties with respect to bulb size were noted, but because the project had a limited number of sites, specific variety recommendations for different regions were not provided.
  • Bulb size and weight were positively correlated with soil potassium levels.
  • Bulb sulfur and manganese content (flavor) were correlated with soil sulfur and manganese levels.

    The famous Music garlic, a hardneck type – see the stem.
    Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • The demand for high-quality fresh garlic is increasing as restaurants and consumers seek out local vegetables. Consumers are attracted to colorful, unique garlic varieties for different culinary uses. As variety name recognition in garlic increases, understanding which traits define particular varieties and which traits vary within cultivars, depending on environmental conditions, will be valuable for successful marketing of new garlic types.

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic; Money and More

 

Softneck garlic ready to harvest
Photo Pam Dawling

We started harvesting our hardneck garlic on May 26 this year. One of the earliest harvests we have on record.

I’ve written lots on garlic in this blog, it’s one of the most sought-out topics. To cut to the chase, here’s my Garlic Recap.

Many of these are posts in my Alliums for the Month Series:

Harvesting garlic scapes
Photo Wren Vile

For a second opinion, see Margaret Roach (who grows in Massachusetts) in A Way to Garden

Music garlic cut open showing gaps around stem – a sign of maturity.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Of the many other posts I’ve written on garlic, that are not mentioned already, starting with harvest and moving round the calendar, there are:

Harvest

Garlic Harvest step by Step

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic Harvest

Garlic harvest, Intercropping, Summer lettuce,

Garlic harvest finished, fall crop planning, tomato bug heads-up

In September 2020, a reader asked:

In this blogpost https://www.sustainablemarketfarming.com/2013/07/05/snipping-sorting-and-storing-garlic/ you discuss that if a garlic bulb is larger or smaller than 2-2.5″, it should not be used for planting.  I’m wondering if you could discuss this in a blogpost perhaps.  I grow Polish White softneck and Turban hardneck, and I’ve been using the largest bulbs I can find for planting both.    I sort the Polish first though, and use only the biggest cloves from each softneck bulb (culls I dry or pickle).  I feel that with the Polish, over time I’ve been increasing my size, and people really like that to purchase.  I would be so very interested to read your reasons for the sizing.  I’m currently sorting for fall planting and was mulling this today and thought I would just ask to see if you might enlighten your readers.  Thanks.

My reply is:

Ah, the hazards of writing a brief article! You can plant any size garlic! Using large cloves from large bulbs usually gives the highest yields, and will, if repeated every year, steer your crop towards bigger bulbs. However, there is a limit: the very largest bulbs are often irregular, and have got large by growing lots of cloves, some of which are very small. As this is probably not what you want to steer towards, don’t use very large irregular bulbs as planting stock.
Yes, I totally agree that if your bulbs are now generally 2.5″ or larger, you are doing the right thing.
Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Drying and Curing, Snipping, Sorting and Storing

Garlic drying and curing methods

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

Planting garlic

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, garlic planting, annual crop review

Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Garlic scallions in March
Photo Pam Dawling

Garlic scallions

Harbinger weeds of spring, and early garlic scallions

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest!

Too much rain! But garlic scapes to cheer us up.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

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My DONATE button

I’ve added a donate button, for those who’d like to use it (via PayPal or credit card). We’re all staying home, not going to conferences or fairs. This is reducing my opportunities to collect speaker fees or sell books face to face.

More people are reading my blog (thank you!). There are thousands of new or returning gardeners across the country, aiming to get fresh air and exercise while usefully putting their time into providing food for their households. There are experienced professional growers trying hard to make their farming more efficient, and pivot to find ways to still earn a living and not lose the farm, due to loss of markets.

I put a lot of energy into providing useful info and practical details, and so if you are finding my posts helpful, and you can afford to, please consider clicking the pay-what-you-can button.

Together we’ll get through this difficult time and reach better days again.

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Birth of Assassin Bugs

Debbie Roos, an Agricultural Extension Agent at Chatham County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the founder of www.growingsmallfarms.org is a wonderful photographer,. She recently reposted this.

A couple of years ago I posted a series of photos on my Growing Small Farms website showing assassin bug nymphs emerging from their eggs. It was an amazing thing to witness and not something you see every day. Folks really enjoyed seeing the photos back then and since it’s spring and time for more to emerge I thought it would be fun to share the photos again now that so many people are spending so much time at home!

Adult wheel bug feeding on a Japanese beetle. Photo by Debbie Roos. Click here to visit NC Cooperative Extension’s Growing Small Farms website to view the photos.

Be on the lookout for these egg clusters on your property and you may even get lucky and witness the birth of an assassin!

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Quick-Growing Vegetable Crops

Steve Albert has an informative website, Harvest to Table, and this post on quick-growing vegetables includes some warm weather crops like bush green beans and sweet corn. It includes names of fast-maturing varieties.

I wrote Fast Growing Vegetables in March, focusing on early spring crops. If you are still racing to catch up, or in need of more crops that yield quickly, see Harvest to Table.

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How to Fight Hornworms

On the Mother Earth News blog, my post How to Fight Hornworms has been very popular, and has led me to make an article for the Mother Earth Gardener magazine

This magazine is “a quarterly publication committed to giving you in-depth expertise to bolster your organic garden each and every season. Roll up your sleeves and learn soil-boosting strategies, permaculture practices, and more! Formerly known as Heirloom Gardener.”

Tobacco hornworm on tomato leaf
Photo Pam Dawling


16 things I know about growing tomatoes

From Margaret Roach at A WAY TO GARDEN

Margaret writes about home-grown seedlings, finding flavor, choosing between hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, saving seed, good tomato-hygiene, monitoring for pests and diseases, pruning, staking or otherwise supporting the plants, and dealing with the weather.

Jubilee tomato in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

 

My article on nematodes in Growing for Market; PASA Conference Feb 2015; reading the Organic Broadcaster

GFM-November-December2014-cover-300pxThe November-December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about tackling root knot nematodes in our hoophouse over the past few years. We found Peanut Root Knot nematodes (RKN) in a half-bed of overwintered spinach transplants in February 2011. As we were digging up the transplants to move them outdoors, we noticed some of the roots were lumpy. I sent a sample to the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at Virginia Tech and got the result we feared.  Nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize plant roots, stressing crops and reducing yields. They have hundreds of host plants and are hard to control.

We came up with a two year plan, taking the half-bed out of production, growing a series of nematode-suppressing cover crops, and solarizing the soil in the summers. Just when we thought we were done, in June 2103, we found nematodes in the other half of the same bed. So we took that half out of production for two years, while enjoying the extra benefits of the solarization we’d done in the first half: a very happy plot of lettuce with no Sclerotinia rot that winter! We took the patient organic approach, accepting the one-twelfth reduction in crop-growing area.

But then, this summer, as we pulled our early tomatoes from the bed next to troubled one, we found nematodes in the roots of 4 of the 44 plants, dotted along the row. To continue the same approach would mean having the new bed as well as the previous half-bed out of production for one year, and then the whole new bed. That would be a quarter of the space for a whole year! So we looked at less cautious approaches, shifting to a “live with a few” approach, rather than the “yikes, get rid of them all” approach we had been (unsuccessfully) applying. Our new plan is to grow resistant crops for two years, then risk one year of susceptible crops. We’re also looking at biocontrols to apply to the soil in spring once it warms up enough for the nematodes to be active. I hope this will work well enough. I’ll let you know.


Other articles in the same GfM issue include Phil Norris in Maine writing about a rolling hoophouse design he came up with after consulting his neighbor, the much-admired author Eliot Coleman. His design runs on a long four-site track. He addresses issues of structural integrity, pedestrian access via a side door, ventilation and irrigation. The house is so easy to move, he even rolls it along to irrigate one of the not-currently-covered sites for two hours, making use of the overhead sprinklers hanging from the roof trusses, before rolling it back for the night!

Susan Studer King writes to debunk myths about solar power. Like many farmers, she uses the slow part of the season to look to making long-term improvements at her farm. The main part of the article is a Q & A, which I found made installment of grid-linked solar arrays seem quite doable by practical people like farmers.

Walt Krukowski writes about caring for peonies at this time of year, for best results next spring. As you know, I’m not a cut flower grower, but I always read the flower articles in GfM to learn tips applicable to vegetable growing.

The GfM editor, Lynn Bryczynski, gives us a valuable article reviewing the fascinating Japanese manual paper chain pot transplanter, which I’ve often wondered about.  Lynn interviewed six growers who’ve used the tool, which can set out 264 plants in a minute, under the right soil conditions. The initial cost for the hand-pulled tool and a set of paper pots is about $2000. The paper pots are connected bottomless cells that arrive flattened, and open out as a plugsheet. Good bed prep and optimal transplant size are critical for success, and the method is best suited to stemmy (rather than rosette-shaped) crops grown on a close plant spacing. A boon for people in cold climates transplanting crops others of us direct-sow. It’s available in North America only from Small Farm Works.

And I was happy to note the magazine has grown from 24 to 28 pages with this issue!


Another good source of sustainable farming reading material is the Organic Broadcaster, which I have mentioned before. The November/December issue of that bi-monthly publication is also out. It includes an article by Elaine Ingham on nutrient cycling in organically managed soils; Hebert Karreman on winter barn housing for cows; Harriet Behar on foreseeable problems of GM crop-herbicide combos; Kelli Boylan on a new weed control technique using ground apricot pits (a byproduct of apricot processing) to “sand-blast” the weeds; Bill Stoneman155_full on biopesticides; Claire Strader on the challenges of urban farming; harold Ostenson and David Granatstein on controlling fireblight without antibiotics; John Biernbaum on planning ahead to grow healthy transplants; Harriet Behar on FSA programs to help farmers reduce financial risks;

The Ask A Moses Specialist page tackles buying organic seed and dealing with fruit-flies in the greenhouse. The book review is of Market Farming Success by Lynn Byczynski, which I reviewed here. The MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse Wisconsin, February 26-28 2015 gets a plug from Audrey Alwell, amusingly titled “Pack your plaid for annual MOSES Conference” complete with four supporting photos of six attendees in plaid shirts! The News Briefs include all sorts of useful information on events and publications. And there are classified ads and an Events Calendar.


As well as my booking to speak at the January 30-31 Virginia Biofarming Conference, I have now heard that I will also be a speaker at the February 2015 PASA Farming for the Future Conference. The titles of my workshops are not finalized yet. I’ll tell you when I know more.

And I see my embedding of my slideshow Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables two weeks ago was unsuccessful, and all you got was a long string link. I’ll try to fix that next.


And meanwhile, this week in the garden: we are getting ready to plant garlic. We started separating bulbs into cloves during our Crop Review Meeting yesterday. 2014 didn’t give us a good crop – we think we left the mulch too thick in some places for too long, so that we had big gaps in the rows. Live and (hopefully) learn! Another big task this week is sorting through all the potatoes we stored two weeks ago. We find that a single sorting two weeks after harvest is all we need to catch the ones that aren’t going to store well.

Planting garlic
Planting garlic, credit Twin Oaks Community