Garlic Planting Time in the Shenandoah Valley

Frost-Killed Pepper Plants

Frost-Killed Pepper Plants

It’s garlic planting time in our part of the Shenandoah Valley. Last week’s “Snowtober” storm and several hard freezes left the vegetable garden almost completely bereft of life. Some of the ornamental sages are hanging on as are some of the culinary herbs, but other than some shriveled beans that (still) need shelling, it’s a sad state of affairs, as you can see by the pepper-bed photo to the right. (Click any photo to see it full size.)

There is a silver lining to this Autumnal cloud, though — it’s time to plant garlic! Over the summer I ordered garlic, shallots, and potato onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange here in Virginia. SESE is about as local as I can get when it comes to ordering seeds, and they have a great variety of alliums. In September they shipped, ahead of planting season.

(Side note, unfortunately my postal person put the package on the unprotected back porch — which we never use — instead of the protected front porch, so my package was exposed to the elements for a week. We had some rain and some warm days, and some of the bulbs shriveled, but most were still firm. The German Extra Hardy had the hardest time of it, so we’ll see what happens!!)

Spaced-Out Bulbs

Spaced-Out Bulbs

The varieties I’m trying this year are:

  • German Extra Hardy Hardneck Garlic
  • Inchilium Red Softneck Garlic
  • Silverwhite Softneck Garlic
  • French Red Shallots
  • Potato Onions

The first step is to clean out the bed, so I pull up the old pepper plants. I shake as much dirt off of the roots as I can.  The plants will go into the compost bin, so the dirt will get reused either way, but I don’t want to lose much from the raised beds. We are raised-bed gardening “on the cheap,” and we’re slowly filling the beds over the years, so losing even a quart of dirt is a bad thing.

After removing the old plants, I dump in about half of a 40lb bag of organic leaf mulch. Alliums like amended soil, so this will help give them some food when they’re ready for it. I work it in gently with a hoe and level the bed. Have I said how much I like raised-bed gardening? The dirt never gets walked on, so it’s friable and easy to work.

Planted and Netted Bulbs

Planted and Netted Bulbs

The next step is to mark off the squares in my square-foot garden. You can find a wealth of information on the Internet about square-foot gardening (sfg), so I’m not going to reiterate it here. Suffice it to say I mark the 8′ x 4′ bed off into 32 square feet of garden space. I’m using old tomato poles to mark off the squares. I’m spacing more than recommended by sfg so the plants will have plenty of space. I’ve also left plenty of “open” squares in my grid. I like to intersperse flowers with my plants, so this provides that opportunity. It also gives me space for early-spring-planted shallots and onions.

After the cloves are all broken down and spaced out, I bury them and cover them over with repurposed tomato trellising. The squirrels are busy gathering nuts, and I don’t want them to mistakenly dig up any of next summer’s bounty. I give the whole thing a light watering and put away the gardening tools for today.

Next week or the week after we’ll cut back the ornamental grasses, and I’ll probably use them as a mulch for this bed over the winter. Lynne of Natural Art Garden Center (a fellow class-of-95 VT Hokie) recommends straw, and the grasses are similar enough that we can save some money and still protect the plants over the winter.

Garlic Bed - courtesy Mother Earth News Garden Planner

Garlic Bed Photo – courtesy Mother Earth News Garden Planner

Here’s hoping I’ve timed it right and we will have enough garlic and shallots for our needs next summer. The picture to the right is from my 2012 garden plan in Mother Earth News’ Vegetable Garden Planner and gives you an idea of how the bed is laid out. Carrots (which I never managed to plant this year) will be to the right, along with some spring onions. (Read my vegetable garden planner review.)

When do you plant garlic in your area?


*** This site is comprised solely of the opinions of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She works to promote gardening and tourism in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.***

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