Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 Garlic Harvest

It's not a pretty sight. When I planted last fall, I thought I'd never have to buy garlic again, since I got such a bountiful harvest last year. But alas, it was not to be. I'm glad I grew garlic last year since it showed me that growing good garlic is even possible for me. If this year had been my first year, I don't know if I'd ever have tried again.

Broadleaf Czech
Planting Date: 9/29/2010
Harvest Date: 6/1/2011
Bulbs Harvested: 1

This was my second-best garlic last year. This year they all died except this one, which gave me one small bulb (the pencil is for scale).
Lorz Italian
Planting Date: 9/6/2010
Harvest Date: 6/1/2011
Bulbs Harvested: 2

This was my first year growing Lorz Italian. It was one of the garlic varieties I got from a GardenWeb trade. Of the five varieties that were sent, this is the only one that managed to give any bulbs, just these two small ones.
Planting Date: 10/3/2010
Harvest Date: 6/1/2011
Bulbs Harvested: 6

This was the third-best garlic from last year. This year I got 6 very small bulbs. I guess that makes it my highest yielding true garlic from this year.
Planting Date: 10/3/2010
Harvest Date: 6/11/2011
Bulbs Harvested: 16

The elephant garlic is the only thing that might have something worth eating. Some of my biggest elephant bulbs are about as big as regular garlic, which is still much smaller than elephant garlic should be. I never got any garlic scapes from anything. I'm also worried because I was stupid and didn't cure these properly. I guess I was in a bad mood when I harvested them and just threw them in a pile in the garage rather than hanging them properly. Now some of them have black mold on them.
What happened to the rest of my varieties? Well, this is pretty typical of what they looked like. Mostly shriveled up and dead.
Here's one of the better looking ones that still has a little green on it dug up, but you can see it never managed to make a bulb. Leaving it in the ground longer won't help at this point. I tried that with some and they just dried up completely and decomposed away.

The garlic that didn't make it
Ajo Rojo - planted 9/29/2010, trade
Georgian Fire - planted 9/6/2010, replanted from last year
German Extra Hardy - planted 9/29/2010, replanted from last year
Inchelium Red - planted 9/29/2010, trade
Persian Star - planted 9/1/2010, replanted from last year
Pskem River - planted 9/1/2010, replanted from last year
Shilla - planted 9/6/2010, trade
Sonoran - planted 9/1/2010, trade
Chet's Italian Red - planted 10/3/2010, replanted from last year

So what went wrong? Why was last year's harvest so bountiful while this one so dismal? I mostly blame the weather. The garlic seemed to be doing fine until we had that hard freeze in February where it stayed below freezing for a few days in a row. That mostly damaged the softnecks, such as Chet's Italian Red.

Then we had hardly any spring and immediately went into hot, dry weather. It got way too hot way too fast, and the drought from last year has continued into this year and just gotten worse. I've tried to keep things watered, but it's not substitute for rain, and the garlic just didn't like weather more typical of July coming already in May. That heat did in the cold-hardier hardnecks that survived the freeze. It just went from one temperature extreme to the other with no time for recovery between.

However, I can't completely dismiss the contribution of human error. I can think of two mistakes I probably made. One is I didn't mulch my garlic. I figured since they did fine last year with no mulch, then they'd do fine this year too. Mulch probably would have helped them endure the temperature extremes better.

The other mistake is I probably planted them too early this time. The first time I grew garlic, I ordered it from Seed Savers Exchange in 2009 and had to wait for them to ship my order, which forced me to wait to plant until October. This time I was replanting from last year, and also received my garlic trade in August, so I planted in September. I didn't think it would hurt to give them an early start, especially since the planting guides for this area don't all agree, and if I put them all together I get a range of garlic-planting times from August through November.

But maybe you can plant too early. I remember reading something on GardenWeb about how too-early planting can cause too much growth in the fall and make them less cold-hardy. I guess that makes sense if they get to grow during warm fall weather and then have to get used to freezes, rather than starting out when it's already cool and being acclimated to that.

Well, what do I do now? I still have some garlic powder I made from Chet's Italian Red last year, but don't have much for fresh eating this year. Guess I'll have to go back to grocery store garlic.

For planting stock, I wonder if these undersized bulbs are worth re-planting. I'll still have to buy more planting stock anyway. Seed Savers Exchange isn't offering a garlic sampler this year, so I'd have to buy individual varieties. I could replace some of the varieties I got from them before that did well (at least in 2010). Gourmet Garlic Gardens looks good, and they're based out of Texas so they have varieties that do well here. I could get one of their warm winter sampler packs and maybe get some varieties I haven't tried before. Either way, I'm going to have to wait until I get some money in and the garlic companies are taking orders for fall.


  1. Re: Garlic Problems

    I read your post in GardenWeb. Given your zone, I would suggest planting Artichoke and Silverskin types of softneck garlic and especially Creole or Turban (Asiatic) types of garlic. Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled and Glazed Purple Stripe, and Rocambole Ophioscorodon hardneck types generally do better in northern climates where there is a long, hard winter. This doesn't mean you can't get a successful crop of Ophio hardnecks where you live, it is just that the odds are against it and I can almost guarantee that it won't happen consistently. Hardnecks are supposed to be hardy to zone 8 but I seriously question the ability to consistently grow quality zone 8 hardnecks. You should be able to grow the other types that do not do well in northern climates, which makes me a little envious of your climate.

    When planting garlic in the fall the perfect scenario is to get them in the ground so they have enough time to develop roots and maybe a short shoot, then are forced into dormancy by cold weather. Ideally one never wants any growth above ground until spring. I don't know how this would apply to zone 8, though.

    I am in zone 4 and I plant my garlic the last week of October through the first week of November. Our ground is usually frozen by the beginning of December. I have always gotten a successful crop (knock wood) but the quality, size, and storeability varies with seasonal growing conditions.

    Best of luck!

  2. Thanks for your comment. When I got the garlic sampler in 2009, the artichokes were the ones that did the best. I also got a couple of porcelain varieties that did so-so, and the purple stripes and rocambole did not do well at all. So my (limited) experience so far matches what you've said.

    NOTHING did well this year, though. Not even the ones that are supposed to do well in my area. I'm pretty sure now that I planted them too early. September is still pretty warm around here, though it can seem cool after going through the Texas summer (in a "wow, it's only 85 degrees!" sort of way).

    I should probably wait until November. That's when we usually get our first frost. I don't think our ground ever freezes, or at least not very deep down. It never stays below freezing long enough for that.