Many home gardeners have found themselves short on seed garlic this fall. Maybe the drought meant your own harvest was smaller than usual. Or perhaps you usually stock up at the Common Ground Country Fair, the Maine Harvest Festival, or another annual event that was canceled or made virtual due to the coronavirus. And if you’ve heard about a shortage of seed garlic this year, your sources were right – there’s not as much available as in recent seasons. But it’s not too late. Getting started with garlic this year is still possible!
1. Visit your local farmers’ market.
Usually it is possible to find a good selection of seed garlic well into October. However, for the 2020 season there have been a number of factors that have meant many places have sold out earlier than usual. Don’t give up; just head to the farmers’ market. The average farmers’ market in Maine has 15 or so vendors, and many of those will be farmers with mixed vegetables. They often sell garlic bulbs by the pound, and many will have multiple varieties. If so, be sure to ask the farmer for their recommendations (and also pick up enough for your winter cooking needs, too). The garlic you find at a farmers’ market in mid- to late-fall may not be the perfect specimens of seed garlic, but for the home gardener, you’re likely to find just what you need. Look for firm, large bulbs, with intact, papery coverings.
2. Check with specialty farms.
Some farms normally sell through annual events like fairs and festivals, and therefore may still have some stock this year due to cancellations. Farms like Grumpy Elf Estate Garlic Farm (11 varieties) sell direct from the farm and will take phone orders and ship whatever quantity is needed (“1 pound or 100 pounds!”). Maine Garlic Farm (which stocks 125 varieties), sells direct from the farm in Garland, but is worth the trip if you want to get planting. (Both the Grumpy Elf and Maine Garlic Farm still have ample garlic in stock as of 10/15/20.) The University of Maine offers a Seed Garlic Directory, organized by county. If there’s a farm near you, give them a call – some may still have stock.
3. Ask your friends.
One head of garlic typically contains 5-10 individual cloves. You may be surprised by how many of your friends grew garlic this year. If just one or two friends can share a full bulb, you’d have enough to plant a row or two. That would mean you would have enough garlic scapes to make a nice batch of garlic pesto in the spring, and 10-20 full bulbs from your own garden next summer! Getting started with garlic isn’t hard to do.
4. Make the most of what you can get.
Although garlic is easy to grow, you’ll want to make the most of what you’ve got. Watch a video or two (like this recent presentation. starting at minute 35, from Mark Guzzi of Peacemeal Farm from this year’s virtual Common Ground Country Fair). You can plant garlic quite late into the season (even in December, if there is decent weather and the ground is bare and pliable). Just be sure to be careful to plant it at the right depth, add plenty of compost, and mulch it in well. (Garlic growers debate the best mulch, but straw seems to be the prevailing favorite. Even mulched up leaves will work.) Follow the advice of the pros, and you’ll find getting started with garlic is easy and successful.
5. Order early for next year.
That’s right, growers are already taking orders for next year. The garlic cycle in Maine looks like this: Plant in Oct/Nov; harvest scapes in May/June; harvest garlic bulbs in July. It may seem like there is plenty of time yet to think about your garlic planting needs for 2021. However, if you prefer to be safe rather than sorry, why not order early? (This is particularly important if you’d like to plant particular varieties.) Farms like October Fields Farm are already taking orders for next fall. Distributors like Fedco Seeds are as well. Others, like Green Garden Farm, will begin taking orders early in the new year, so mark your calendars!
Plant now, enjoy next season! For home gardeners, garlic is a wonderfully rewarding crop. Late fall is a quiet time, so planting is manageable. And since garlic sprouts early, it’s a very rewarding plant to have in the garden! Take some extra time right now to source some bulbs, and you’ll be glad you did next year!