Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The garden on Thanksgiving and planting garlic

It really felt like the season changed from early to late fall this Thanksgiving weekend. The trees were ablaze on Saturday and Sunday, the skies moody with clouds punctuated by pockets of sun. And then it went down to -6C over Sunday night. By Monday morning you could actually hear the trees raining their frost rimed leaves.
Late afternoon on Thanksgiving weekend

This was the turning point weekend. Some vegetables like kale, carrots, beet greens and leeks appreciate a bit of frost to bring out their sweetness. There is always a bit of uncertainty about when to harvest winter squash; people seem sharply divided about whether it is just before or after a light frost.  Regardless of the point of view, this seemed like the time to bring in any squashes left in the garden.
Bull's Blood Beet Greens

There was no question about the snap and shelling beans. I picked what were ready on Saturday and by Monday morning those left on the plants had turned to mush.
The new greens bed

The greens have made a comeback; heirloom lettuces, spinach, sorrel, even some self seeded peas.  They will withstand ground frost and keep growing, albeit a little modestly, until the ground freezes hard and daytime temperatures hover close to 0C. All spring and summer I kept seeding kale and mustard. The germination rate was minimal and those few that did grow were ravaged by insect damage. The past few weeks we have had the cool temperatures and moisture they have been craving all along. Their happiness shows in the big, deeply coloured leaves with almost no insect damage. It's interesting how over and over again the healthiest plants have little problem with insects. It is always the weak and sickly plants that are then further disadvantaged by damage from pests and diseases.
Red Russian Kale

October is the month to plant garlic - with the optimum date being on the full moon. With two this year you'd think I could have managed to accommodate either the one on Oct. 1 or the blue moon on Oct. 29. But I was away at the beginning of the month. And with the heavy frost on Sunday night I felt like an anxious mother wringing my hands, wondering if the ground might be frozen solid by the end of the month. So the garlic went in on Monday.
Seed garlic, the new stock on the left and the mature heads on the right

After the freshly harvested garlic has been hung to air dry for  a couple of weeks and you're ready to store it for the winter, you choose your best heads to use as seed. It is also a good idea to plant some bulbils if you have let some of the garlic flower and go to seed. These little bulbils become new seed for the future  - a way of ensuring your stock stays healthy and is less likely to become prey to ongoing pest and disease problems.

A clove ready to be planted, flat end down
A few weeks ago I had added manure and compost to the bed destined for this year's garlic. When it was time to plant I scattered more manure in rows, then used the long handled cultivator to mix it in and loosen the soil. Each head is divided into its separate cloves. The cloves are planted a couple of inches deep with the flat part down. Garlic is really very forgiving so it is not crucial to worry about the space between cloves or the rows for that matter.
The new garlic bed clothed in its blanket of fall leaves

Other years I have planted the garlic much earlier and so have used grass clippings for mulch. This year I tried raking the leaves of the catalpa and mulberry which were close to hand and abundant. They seem a little big and fibrous compared to other deciduous leaves. But they will help keep reduce the fluctuations in temperature we experience at this time of year. And I'm going to count on them having broken down by next spring when the first green sprouts emerge. At that point the leaf mulch will help keep the weeds down. Being shallow rooted, garlic doesn't cope well with weeds. Nor do gardeners cope well with trying to hoe the weeds without uprooting the garlic we're trying to help.

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