Once the garlic cloves are in the ground planted and then growing in the spring, there are generally three main tasks that need to be taken care of during the growing season. These include weeding, watering and scape removal if necessary.
Healthy garlic plants that have been weeded and watered throughout the growing season.
If possible, it is best to plant garlic in a garden or field that is "clean" and has low levels of weeds. Areas with perennial weeds like thistles or quack grasses should be avoided if possible and planted in future years once these weeds have been removed.
Garlic is an incredibly poor competitor that requires constant weeding throughout the growing season. Weed pressure is one of the greatest threats to good bulb size and good yields. Ideally, garlic plants should grow in a completely weed free environment for the entire growing season.
Weeding early is especially important for garlic crops. Depending on the weed pressure of a particular garden or field, this can mean weeding between 5 and 8 times throughout the season. In a particularly weed infested garden or field, weeding may be required at least every 10 days for the first six weeks and then biweekly for the remainder of the season. In really clean fields, weeding might only be needed 3 or 4 times during the whole season.
When weeding, it is important to be careful not to damage the garlic plant roots as they are relatively shallow growing and can be fragile. Weed removal, while the weeds are still very small, makes weeding much easier and helps keep the depth of the soil disturbance shallower.
On our farm, we hand weed all the garlic and use sharp blade hoes to do most of the work. We have learned over the years that weeding a field many times while the weeds are still very small versus a few time when the weeds are large is far less work! Weeding early and making sure a field is free of perennial weeds is key to our weed management strategy.
Garlic Crops like to have a consistent supply of moisture. In general, this means about 1 inch of rain or irrigation per week on clay or loam soils and up to 2 inches on sandy soils during the warmer parts of the growing season.
Not supplying enough moisture can lead to stressed plants with smaller bulbs, although they will be very flavourful and store well. On heavy clay soils, it is best to lean towards watering slightly less whereas on sandy soils it's hard to over water if the watering is spaced out and managed properly.
Watering should be reduced about 2 to 3 weeks before the garlic will be harvested, as it helps promote drying of the plants and curing of the bulbs. This is a natural process where the dry conditions help send a signal to the garlic plants for them to start the final stages of growth and begin to move towards dormancy.
On our farm, we rely on rainfall and sprinkler irrigation to water our garlic. Being located in the middle of North America and on the edge of both "dry" western Canada and "wet" eastern Canada, we can sometimes have substantial rainfall throughout the summer and sometimes have none for the whole season.
When watering is needed, we lean on the side of less water on our clay soils and more water on our sandy soils. We try to irrigate only when conditions are very hot and dry (usually late June and early July) and in early spring mostly rely on the moisture stored in the soil from the winter.
When growing hardneck garlics, scape removal is generally recommended unless you are wanting to let them develop bulbil capsules. Scape removal encourages larger bulbs because energy is conserved and diverted to the bulb rather than the flowering structure.
There is some debate as to what is the best stage of plant growth that scapes should be removed. They can be cut as early as when the structure first appears or as late as when the scape has uncoiled, elongated and the capsule begins to swell.
Garlic scape ready to be removed before it uncoils and the capsule swells.
Early removal is said to divert the maximum amount of energy to the bulb while late removal is believed to maximize bulb quality and storage ability. Generally, most growers choose somewhere in the middle and remove the scapes once they have formed one or two loops, but before they bein to uncoil and the capsules begin to swell.
Scapes can be snapped off by hand or cut with sharp shears just above the last leaves. They are also wonderful to eat and can be cooked by themselves or in recipes that call for garlic.
On our farm, we try to do removal sometime between the scapes just starting to curl and the scapes having one loop. We find that this allows us enough time to do all the work before the capsules form. Removing tens of thousands of scapes is a lot of work and takes us a couple weeks to fully complete.
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