Success with Storing Garlic

Garlic hanging in vertical netting to cure and dry.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

I have written often about garlic, and now I am going to focus on the steps to take to ensure your garlic stores as long as possible. This assumes you have become successful at growing all you need for many months, if not most of a year, and your challenge now is keeping it in good shape.

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic June 2020 includes many, many links on all stages of garlic growing. And to sum it all up see My Garlic Slideshow

Much about garlic is to be found in my Alliums for the Month Series from 2018-2019. The April 2019 post gives links to each of them.

Here’s a sequence of tips, from choosing good varieties to storage, to maximize your chances of success with storing garlic.

Siberian hardneck garlic.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Choosing good storing varieties

  • See Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity May 2021. Includes many links. Read this post to learn which characteristics are determined by the growing conditions, including climate, and which are inherent in that variety. Don’t rush to buy a variety that does well in California if you are in New England! Size isn’t everything, but for good size, predictably colored and flavored garlic, buy seed garlic grown locally that yields well. Over time, garlic saved and regrown each year in a certain locality (particular soil type, water availability, local temperatures, latitude, altitude, cultural practices) will adapt itself to that location, and yields can improve. 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 yield under well-watered conditions, but drought will show up the adapted strains in a comparison trial.
  • Get a soil test a month or so before planting, and determine if any soil amendments will help your garlic grow big and strong.
  • Soft neck varieties generally store longer than hardneck varieties. But you don’t need to give up on hard neck varieties! We like our hardneck garlic for flavor and for the large cloves. Most soft-necks have a group of small cloves in the center of each bulb. We grow hardneck to last us 4-6 months, and softneck to use after that, for another 4-6 months or until it’s all gone.
  • According to Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, although most hardnecks store 4-6 months, Music and Chesnok Red can keep 7 months or more in central Virginia. Other hardnecks also rated by SESE as good for storage include German Extra-Hardy and Romanian Red. Softnecks such as Italian Softneck, Inchelium Red, California Early and Silverskins such as Nootka Rose and Silver Rose can store for up to 12 months under good conditions. Order in summer for delivery September to November according to your local planting date.
Garlic scallions prepared for sale. Typepad.com
  • Make your best use of garlic scallions and garlic scapes to extend the garlic season. Experiment with planting small cloves, or cull bulbs of softneck varieties, to grow scallions at various times of year to see what the range is where you are. See Alliums for November. Some growers are finding they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, and so they are working to extend the garlic scallion season. We have only ever planted small cloves for garlic scallions in early November immediately after planting our maincrop garlic. By planting later, it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later. Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted after the start of January.

Planting garlic for strongest growth

  • Watch your soil temperature to determine when to plant your garlic. Ideally, the soil temp at 4″ (10 cm) deep will be 50°F (10°C) at 9 am, for a few consecutive days. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.  We plant in early-mid November. If you plant too early, the garlic will make too much lush leafy growth before cold weather (12°F/−11°C) and could get set back by freezing. If you plant too late, the garlic may not be able to grow enough strong roots before freezing conditions prevent growth. This will limit the size of the bulbs, and may lead to high winter-kill of the plants.
having fun popping garlic and talking about next year’s planned crops.
Photo Bell Oaks
  • Select large cloves from large bulbs, 2-2.5” (5-7.5 cm). 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.
  • See Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots for a summary and links to other posts.
  • See Plant Garlic (Alliums for November) for lots of info, including how much garlic to plant, popping cloves for planting, pre-plant seed treatments to reduce pests and diseases. Start your garlic off well by eliminating problems before you plant!
  • Mulch? At planting time, the soil is still warm, and the newly separated cloves are primed to start growing. If you want to roll out mulch as we do (big round bales of spoiled hay), then you need to act before fragile garlic shoots emerge from the soil. If you are using loose mulch you can blow or throw it over the beds, and a few emerged shoots are no big deal. If you don’t mulch, the soil and the garlic experiences more and wider temperature swings, including freezing conditions, which can dislodge the roots and reduce the rate of growth.
  • In areas where oats reliably winter-kill, if you have a lot of space, you can plant garlic between beds of oats, then later mow the oats and spread the straw between the rows. You do need quite widely-spaced rows of garlic to make this possible, and a bigger area in oats than in garlic.

Cultivating garlic for biggest plants

  • Free Trapped Garlic Shoots (Alliums for December). Watch your mulched garlic beds and when the shoots start to emerge, choose the moment to free any trapped shoots. Usually, most of the shoots will emerge on the same day. Work along the rows, investigating each spot where you expect a garlic plant to be, but nothing has emerged. This will help you with the goal of having a big harvest. After all, improving storability does imply having plenty!

    Garlic beds in April. Weed once a month from March. Photo Kathryn Simmons
  • Because of their vertical tubular or strap-like leaves, alliums do not compete well with broadleaf weeds and can easily become stunted in high weeds. All overwintered alliums will need weeding in March and once a month after that until harvest.
  • Mulched crops can be weeded during wet weather, if necessary, and the pulled weeds can be discarded on top of the mulch, where they stand a much better chance of dying then weeds discarded on bare soil.

Preparing garlic for harvest: removing scapes and mulch

  • Garlic Scapes (Alliums for May). Pulling scapes as soon as you can get a good grip below the head of the stem helps the garlic grow bigger. Removing the scapes does not reduce the storage life, as was once thought. Removing the mulch gives the garlic good airflow and helps it dry down. We do these jobs as soon as we start to see scapes (ours arrive 3 weeks before we need to harvest the bulbs):
  • Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and starts the drying down process. Watch the garlic, not the calendar!

    Pulling garlic scapes.
    Photo Wren Vile

Harvesting garlic

  • See Harvesting Garlic, Signs of maturity (Alliums for June) and Garlic signs of maturity October 2020. Count how many fully green inner leaves there are on a dozen random sample plants. Green leaves represent intact “wrappers” on the bulb, and having at least 4 will help your bulbs store well.  Six is better, five is enough, if your garlic doesn’t have to travel to distant markets. The gold standard (Ron Engeland) is if the sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop, then it’s ready to harvest.
  • Another sign of maturity that we use with our hardneck garlic is to dig a few sample bulbs, and cut them in half horizontally. If there are small open air spaces between the remains of the stem and the cloves, the bulbs are ready. If the cloves have not even differentiated, and you are viewing a single mass of garlic, you are too early by quite a bit. Test once a week. If your cloves are already springing apart from each other, like an opening flower bud, you are late. Your delicious garlic will not store for long. You might need to mince and freeze it in ice cube trays, if you want to preserve some for a while.
  • See Garlic Harvest step by Step June 2016
Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier
  • Harvesting Garlic June 2013. Careful harvest extends storage life. Here’s our system:
  1. If the soil is very dry, water the night before – Very hard soil can damage the bulbs.
  2. Plan equal time to dig garlic and to hang it up. It’s important not to leave garlic in airless buckets.
  3. Dig the garlic carefully. Treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Don’t bang, throw or drop the bulbs. Bruised bulbs won’t store well
  4. Loosen them with digging forks, without stabbing them. Pulling on unloosened garlic damages necks, they won’t store well
  5. If they have a lot of soil on the roots, use curled fingers to “brush” soil out
  6. Try not to rub or pick at the skin. Bulbs need several intact skin layers to store well.
  7. Don’t wash the bulbs, no matter how dirty. They need to dry, not get wetter. Dirt will dry and drop off during curing.
  8. Get the dug garlic indoors and hung up promptly. Air above 90°F (33°C) can cook the bulbs, sun can scorch them
Hauling the harvested garlic (and a tired worker) to the barn. Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier
  • Garlic Harvest June 2012. Our hardneck variety is always ready before our softneck variety.

Drying, curing, snipping, and sorting garlic for best keeping qualities

  • Garlic drying and curing methods Feb 2020. A useful roundup of approaches.
  • Drying and Curing Garlic June 2016
  • Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step with Vertical Netting February 2020. This post has a complete step-by-step list of all the tasks from determining curing is finished, to storing for the winter. Here I am just picking out the bits that make the most difference to how well your garlic will store.
    • We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting around the walls of a barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
    • Hang curing garlic with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set fans too close to the garlic, your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. See my book Sustainable Market Farming.
    • A sequential arrangement of hanging in order of harvesting, simplifies trimming, and makes best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.
    • Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.
Trimming garlic stems prior to long-term storage.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

Snipping and sorting

  • Gently remove plants from the netting. Handle the bulbs gently so as not to bruise them. We need long storage, which means no damage.
  • Set up a comfortable place to work. Being comfortable aids good quality work!
  • Some people like to mark off 2”and 2 ½” on the arm of the chair, a nearby wood structure, or their knee.
  • Cut the roots off the garlic as close as possible in one or two snips. This stops them reabsorbing water from the air, and becoming undry.
  • Cut the tops off the garlic, leaving a ¼ – ½” stub. Cutting too close reduces the storage life.
  • Do not remove any skin. We want long storage not pretty-pretty.
  • If damaged, sprung apart or mushy anywhere, put that bulb on the Farm Use rack.
  • Feel the cut neck. The remains of the stem may have a Styrofoam texture. If damp at all, put the trimmed bulb on a rack to dry further.
  • If dry, select bulbs for replanting: If it’s not springing open and it could be between 2 and 2 ½” (5-7.5 cm), and is not obviously more than 10 cloves, measure it.
  • If it’s seed size and quality, put it in a green net bag. Green for Growing. If smaller or larger, put in a red bag for eating.
  • Lay down any bags that are more than 1/3 full, as the weight of garlic in a vertical bag can damage the bulbs at the bottom.
  • Periodically weigh the tied-off bags, make neck tags from masking tape, saying type, quality and weight.
  • Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic July 2013. A different step-by-step list.
  • Snip and Sort Garlic (Alliums for July)
Nootka Rose Silverskin softneck garlic is one of the best for long storage. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Storing garlic for a long season of good quality

  • Garlic does not need to be refrigerated immediately after trimming. Garlic bulbs can be stored in the high temperature range of 60ºF-90°F (16ºC-32°C) if they have never been refrigerated, the same as bulb onions. We store initially in a basement. Seed garlic can stay in the high temperature range until planting time.
  • It is important to avoid the sprouting temperature range of 40-55°F (5-13°C)
  • 32-39°F (0-4.5°C) is also a good temperature range.
  • See Storing through the winter: When temperatures seem likely to drop to below 55°F in our basement, we clear the top left shelves in the walk-in cooler and move the garlic there. The low shelves near the compressor do not work well. Use the drier high shelves.
  • See Move Stored Garlic (Alliums for September).
  • Commercially, garlic is stored in the dark at about 32°F (0°C) and 65% humidity, and depending on the species and variety, it may keep six months or more. I have heard that garlic can be stored for up to nine months at 27°F (-2.7°C), but I have not tried that myself. It does not freeze until 21°F (-6°C). Do not store peeled garlic in oil, as garlic is low in acidity and the botulin toxin could grow.
  • For storage, garlic (like onions) does best with a humidity of 60%–70%. Refrigerators are usually more humid than ideal.

Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Garlic planting crew.
Photo Valerie Renwick

Planting Garlic

We are planting garlic, a topic I’ve written much about! Here are links to a few of my Allium of the Month posts from 2018-2019 and my slideshow.

Sign up for the free Growing for Market newsletter  and read my article How and when to plant garlic this month. That article mentions Get ready for garlic planting which you can read if you are a Full Access Member. I wrote these articles back in 2012, so I do have some newer info in my slideshow and my blog posts from last year.

See last year’s Alliums for November for

How Much Garlic to Plant

Popping Garlic Cloves for Planting;

Pre-plant Seed Garlic Treatments to reduce pests and diseases.

Planting garlic cloves, using a 5″ (13 cm) measuring stick.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Preparation for Garlic Planting

Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition. Garlic for planting should be separated into cloves 0–7 days before planting. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves (the part the roots grow from), as that makes them unusable for planting. With hardneck garlic, the remainder of the stem acts as a convenient lever for separating the cloves. We sort as we go, putting good size cloves for planting in big buckets, damaged cloves in kitchen buckets, tiny cloves in tiny buckets and outer skins and reject cloves in compost buckets. Don’t worry if some skin comes off the cloves — they will still grow successfully. The tiny cloves get planted for garlic scallions (see below).

When to Plant Garlic

Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best when planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields). If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the lack of vernalization will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).

Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.  We plant in early-mid November. (We used to plant at the end of October or early November, but we’ve moved later.) In New Hampshire, mid-October is the time. The guideline for areas with cold winters is 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. In Michigan, planting time is 6 weeks prior to the ground freezing, giving enough time for root growth only, to avoid freezing the leaves.Instructions from Texas A&M say less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep. In California, garlic can be planted in January or February.

Closing the furrows over the garlic cloves.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Mulch your Garlic Beds

After planting, pull soil over the cloves, tamp or roll to get the cloves in good soil contact to help the roots grow. Within a couple of days, mulch the beds. At planting time, the soil is still warm, and the newly separated cloves are now primed to start growing. If you want to roll out mulch as we do (big round bales of spoiled hay), then you need to act before fragile garlic shoots emerge from the soil. If you are using loose mulch you can blow or throw it over the beds, and a few emerged shoots are no big deal.

Garlic Scallions

Garlic scallions are small garlic plants, mostly leaves, the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions). Great for omelets, stir-fries, pesto, soups, and many other dishes. If you want to have Garlic Scallions to eat or sell in early spring, when new fresh vegetables are in short supply, and homesteaders may be running out of stored bulb onions, see my post Alliums for March.

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

November-planted garlic scallions in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done!

Rather than dig up whole garlic scallion plants, some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply lift the whole plant once it reaches about 7″–8″ (18–20 cm). The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of three to six depending on size. A little goes a long way! If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto for sale later in the year.

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

Cold-hardiness of Young Garlic Plants

  • At 12°F (−11°C): garlic tops that have grown fairly large will die
  • At 5°F (−15°C): garlic tops if still small will die.
  • When properly planted, cloves can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C).
  • Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground isn’t frozen
  • Garlic tops will make growth whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).

If the tops do get frozen back, do not despair! They will regrow. The growing point of alliums (garlic, onions and relatives) is close to the bulb, probably under mulch, certainly in or close to the soil, where temperatures are warmer. If your garlic gets frozen back twice, the yield will be less than if it had not got frozen, but we don’t control the weather. If your climate is getting colder in the garlic-planting season, plant deeper and/or earlier. But don’t plant earlier if climate change is giving you hotter fall weather!

Garlic shoots poking through the mulch in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Free Trapped Garlic Shoots

See last year’s Alliums for December for my post  Free trapped garlic shoots.

Watch your mulched garlic beds and when the shoots start to emerge, choose the moment to free any trapped shoots, by working along the rows, investigating each spot where you expect a garlic plant to be, but nothing has emerged. Your goal is simply to let the shoot see the daylight. Then it will right itself. Don’t reveal any bare soil, as that will grow weeds (and let colder winter air at the garlic.) Don’t over-work this – as soon as any part of a shoot is visible, leave that plant alone, and move on to the thousands of others. It isn’t necessary to make all the leaves visible, or to clear around the whole plant.

Choosing the right time is tricky. I used to say when half or more of the shoots are visible, but one year we were having a crop disaster, and we waited too long – we were never going to have half visible. Usually, most of them emerge at the same time. it would be helpful to note down how many weeks after planting this is likely to be. We somehow haven’t done that – I think it’s about 3 weeks. Leave a comment if you have an answer!

 

Alliums for November: Plant garlic, sow onions in a hoophouse, eat leeks

Tadorna winter leeks in October.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cold-Tolerance of Alliums

Alliums are more cold-tolerant than most people believe. Here are my observations of killing temperatures for outdoor crops. Note that crops often survive night-time lows in the hoophouse that would have killed them outdoors.

  • 12°F (−11°C): garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln,King Richard), large tops of potato onions
  • 10°F (−12°C) some leeks (American Flag aka Musselburgh and Scottish Flag, Jaune du Poiteau)
  • 5°F (−15°C): garlic tops if still small, some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna, Bandit), some bulb onions, potato onions and other multiplier onions
  • 0°F (−18°C): chives, garlic, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some bulb onions, yellowpotato onions, some onion scallions (Evergreen Hardy White, White Lisbon), Walla Walla onions sown in late summer (with rowcover for winter)

Planting Garlic

Planting garlic.
Photo Brittany Lewis

You can see my garlic slideshow for more info. I was surprised to find I haven’t written much in my blog about planting garlic, so here goes! See the alliums chapter in Sustainable Market Farming for more on types, varieties, and garlic genetics. The information here comes form that chapter.

When to Plant Garlic

Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week. Instructions from Texas A&M say less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep. We plant in early November. In New Hampshire, mid-October is the time. The guideline for areas with cold winters is 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. In Michigan, planting time is 6 weeks prior to the ground freezing, giving enough time for root growth only, to avoid freezing the leaves. In California, garlic can be planted in January or February.

Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best when planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields). If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the lack of vernalization will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).

Garlic shoots emerging from the mulch a few weeks after November planting. Photo Twin Oaks Community

Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C). In colder areas the goal is to get the garlic to grow roots before the big freeze-up arrives, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the weather. In warmer areas, the goal is to get enough top growth in fall to get off to a roaring start in the spring, but not so much top growth that the leaves cannot endure the winter. If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can regrow and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will be lower than it might have been if you had been luckier with the weather. When properly planted, it can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C). If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter. If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.

How Much Garlic to Plant

A yield ratio of 1:6 or 7 seems typical, and makes complete sense when you consider you are planting one clove to get a bulb of 6–7 cloves. Divide the amount you intend to produce by six to figure out how much to plant. For large areas 750–1,000 lbs/ac (842–1,122 kg/ha) are needed for plantings in double rows, 3″–4″ in-row (7.5–10 cm), beds 39″ (1 m) apart. For single rows, 8 lbs (3.6 kg) of hardneck or 4 lbs (1.8 kg) of softneck plants about 100′ (30 m). In the US, one person eats 3–9 lbs (1.4–4.2 kg) per year.

Popping garlic cloves in preparation for planting
Photo  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Popping Garlic Cloves for Planting

The garlic for planting should be taken apart into separate cloves 0–7 days before planting. We are doing this on November 7, along with our crop review meeting when the crew meets to make notes on the past season. This task is a good group activity. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves (the part the roots grow from), as that makes them unusable for planting. With hardneck garlic, the remainder of the stem acts as a handy lever for separating the cloves. We sort as we go, putting good size cloves in big buckets, damaged cloves in kitchen buckets, tiny cloves in tiny buckets and outer skins and reject cloves in compost buckets. The tiny cloves get planted for garlic scallions. Don’t worry if some skin comes off the cloves — they will still grow successfully. Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition.

Click the link to read about hot water treatment for seed garlic at WeeBee Farms. 

Pre-plant Seed Garlic Treatments

Many of us do nothing special with the cloves before planting, but if you have pest and disease problems, use pre-plant soaking treatments, usually done the night before planting. Some growers find they get better yields from treated cloves even if no problem was obvious.

To eradicate stem and bulb (bloat) nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci), soak the separated cloves for thirty minutes in 100°F (37.7°C) water containing 0.1% surfactant (soap). Or soak for twenty minutes in the same strength solution at 120°F (48.5°C), then cool in plain water for 10-20 minutes.

Allow to dry for 2 hours at 100°F (37.7°C) or plant immediately. Anytime your garlic grows poorly and you can’t tell why, send a sample with the soil it’s growing in to your Extension Service to be tested for nematodes. Mites can eat the skins of the cloves, survive the winter and multiply all spring long, seriously damaging or even killing your crop. To kill mites (which hide between the wrappers) before planting, separate the bulbs into cloves and soak them overnight (up to 16 hours) in water.

Possible additions to the water include one heaping tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of liquid seaweed per gallon (around 8 ml baking soda and 4 ml liquid seaweed per liter). Just before planting, drain the cloves and cover them in rubbing alcohol for three to five minutes, long enough for the alcohol to penetrate the clove covers and kill any mites inside. Then plant immediately. The long soaking will loosen the clove skins so that the alcohol can penetrate. Mite-infested garlic soaked like this does much better than unsoaked infested garlic. The solution used to kill mites can also be used to kill various fungal infections. The cloves need only fifteen to thirty minutes soaking.

In trials comparing treated and untreated cloves, treated cloves were larger and healthier than untreated ones. Fusarium levels can be kept down by adding wood ashes when planting and then possibly dusting the beds with more ashes over the winter (use moderation — don’t add so much that you make the soil alkaline). Or you could soak the cloves in a 10% bleach solution, then roll them in wood ash (wear gloves for handling ashy cloves). The wood ash soaks up the dampness of the bleach and provides a source of potassium. This information came from the Garlic Seed Foundation. Join GSF to find out all the details!

Other November Allium Planting

Plant shallot bulbs before the end of November and medium-sized potato onions (1.5″ – 2″, 4-5 cm) at the end of November or early December in zone 7. Finish dividing and replanting perennial leeks and Egyptian walking onions this month

Young onion plant in March.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Special Allium Topic for November: Sow Bulbing Onions in the Hoophouse

We developed a system of growing onion starts in our hoophouse over the winter and transplanting them bare-root outdoors in very early March. I wrote about choosing onion varieties for your latitude last month. There I explained that to grow big onions we need to have large transplants on March 1, so we can have big vegetative plants before bulbing is triggered by the daylength.

The method involves making two sowings of bulbing onions, each enough for the whole planting. This provides insurance in case one date turns out better than the other. Then we follow this up with a partial third sowing to make up numbers of any varieties that didn’t germinate well. We make our first sowing November 10, our second November 20, and a third on December 5 as a back-up in case of problems. Our formula is: divide the number of onion plants wanted by 20, to give minimum length of row to sow, in feet. And sow this amount twice, 10 days apart. The onions will be planted out at 4″ (10 cm) apart. We add 20% to provide some slack. For a final row of 100′ (30.5 m), we’d need 100′ × 3 per foot × 1.2 (adding 20%) plants. 360 plants. We sow 3 seeds per inch (approx. 1 cm apart), 36 per foot (30 cm). At this sowing rate, we need 120″, or 10′ (3 m).

See The Year-Round Hoophouse for more on growing onions this way. If we find ourselves with extra onion plants in March, we usually re-categorize them as scallions. But we have also transplanted them in early March in a single row along the south edge of hoophouse beds, for an early crop. We got good onions but they dwarfed the pepper plants behind them. Maybe planting them on the north side of the bed is better?

Trimming roots from a leek in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

Storing Leeks

I wrote about how to dig up leeks last month. In zone 7 we leave our leeks in the ground till we need them, being sure to harvest the less hardy Lincoln and King Richard first. We use a walk-in cooler for short term storage (up to a week) and keep the root ends in water. Leeks are best stored at 33°F (0.5°C) and 65% relative humidity. In colder zones, leeks can be harvested and stored in a root cellar or basement. This is helpful in areas where the ground freezes solid for weeks on end. You can store leeks with the roots packed in soil, shoulder to shoulder in a crate or box in a root cellar, where they will keep for six weeks. They can be stored in plastic bags for two to three months at the right temperature, or frozen. Another possibility is to leave them in the garden, mulched with a foot (30 cm) of straw or hay as well as rowcover, if temperatures are below 10°F (–12°C). Our winter temperatures fluctuate a lot, so covering in-ground crops with mulch doesn’t work well for us.