Plant Garlic Cloves Not Bulbs – the Fall Planting Fiasco

Captain Obvious here with a public service announcement to let you know that even experienced gardeners can make mistakes.  I’ve been growing food for six or seven years but never my own garlic.  At the Haymaker Farmers’ Market in Kent this fall, a bag of garlic called out to me (“Buy me!”) and I asked the lady selling them if they could be planted, to which she said yes.  What she didn’t say was how to plant them.  I have planted onion bulbs for years now (very easy).  Just take them out and plop them in the ground, pointy end up.  The garlic I bought was on the small side, so my onion experience thought they would just get bigger once planted.  Thus, last October I planted the bulbs, pointy end up, just like I would with onion sets (except somehow I knew to bury them in several inches of mulch).

This February, when we had a nicer day (i.e. above freezing), I peeked under the leaf mulch to see how they were doing.  Below are pictures of what I found (note the multiple green spears).  Even then I didn’t really think anything was wrong.  About a week later, after reading some new gardening books, the wrongness of the situation came to me as a slow but steady voice in my head – “Plant cloves not bulbs.”  I conducted an Internet search for examples of others who had made this same mistake.  Oddly enough, I didn’t discover much, just a mention of finding missed bulbs the following year in May, and others commenting that they wouldn’t produce much with the cloves that close together (noooooooo!).

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It was two weeks later before the weather was nice enough (mid 40’s and sunny on March 8th) to deal with the bunched up garlic cloves.  Drawing the mulch back, I pulled the cloves apart, leaving one or two rooted to the ground.  Those I removed were attached quite well and took some tenacity to get them out without damage.  But in the end I prevailed and all the bulbs were now cloves (albeit with a green sprout and several inches of roots).  I planted these just north of the current garlic bed (up into my overwintered carrots) and to the west, where I will co-plant kohlrabi and broccoli with them in April (hoping to scare away some cabbage flies with the stinky garlic smell).  I have no idea how the replanted garlic will do, as spring garlic doesn’t perform as well as fall planted.  But at this point I’m willing to roll the dice so future snarky gardeners will know if their crop can be saved or if they should just dig them up and enjoy (yum).

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