Wow, is this Alaska? This is garlic planting season in Alaska. Isn't it supposed to be a lot cooler? I mentioned garlic a few weeks back and was amazed by the questions I started to get as a result. So many readers had no idea you can grow great garlic here.
First, when exactly should you plant garlic? I guess I was not clear. This is an unusual thing for Alaska because you plant it in the fall. The reason is to get roots started without having green stalks produced. Garlic is killed off by the winter if it does.
Research suggests that the very best time for planting is when the temperatures hit 32 degrees. It is best to wait, if you can, until just after the first killing frost and then get your bulbs in the ground during the following week or two. In some places, the ground will freeze hard right away. If that is your area, put a mulch covering down now, before a hard frost, to prevent it. You are probably looking now for the Fairbanks area, very soon for Anchorage and October for Juneau, Sitka and the rest of Southeast.
Next, what is the type of garlic that does best in Alaska gardens? This is asked because there are two "types" of garlic. The first is known as hardback garlic. These produce a woody stalk called a scape. The second type are known as softneck and do not produce scapes. This is almost always what you buy at the supermarket.
There has been a lot of research done into this matter and the conclusion is that hardback types are the most popular. They are hardier and they produce bigger bulbs. Some swear that they are also much more flavorful, though with garlic how can you tell? While the softneck types can do fine here (they can be more easily braided because of the lack of scapes), the Co-op seems to suggest using hardback varieties.
You want to plant garlic in good soil with a lot of organic matter. Adding compost is a great idea. The individual cloves are placed 3 or 4 inches down, pointy side up. Keep them about 5 or 6 inches apart so that they will have plenty of room to develop and plenty of soil to mine on their own.
There are two additional things to know. The first is that if you plant little cloves, you will get small garlic plants. If you plant large ones, you will do much better. The second tip is that the papery skin that covers each garlic clove should remain, as it prevents the garlic from rotting during the long winter. You are not cooking with it. Do not remove it.
Garlic will grow during freeze-thaw cycles if it isn't properly mulched. For my money, use as much as you can to keep your cloves well insulated. You can't really use too much, provided you plant after the killing frost. Try a foot or so of leaves. Just remember that you will have to remove this mulch in the early spring.
Finally, the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage is conducting research on growing garlic in cold climates like ours. There will be a workshop on garlic there from 6 pm to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 (There is a fee and a reservation is required; see alaskabg.org or call 907-770-3692).
In addition, the Botanical Garden will have a garlic tasting from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with sales of garlic at the nursery. You can taste and buy Chesnok red, Spanish roja, German red, Romanian red, music, Idaho silver, Penasco blue and Asian tempest varieties. If you can't make it to the garden, do check out varieties from your local nurseries — not the supermarket, whose garlic has most probably been treated with growth retardant.
Jeff's Alaska garden calendar for the week of Sept. 14
Harvest: What ARE you waiting for?
Moose: It is time to apply Plantskydd, the emulsified blood meal that scares moose away. It should last six months.
Spring flowering bulbs: Plant as many as you can afford.
Hoses: Time to start cleaning up even if it has been warm. You are probably finished using your hoses for the season. Drain and then make sure your faucets are free and clear of all attachments, including timers and connectors.