Once the garlic cloves are in the ground planted and then growing in spring, there are generally four main tasks that need to be taken care of during the growing season. These include weeding, watering, scape removal (if necessary) and scouting.
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 to eight weeks and then biweekly for the remainder of the season. In a really clean field, weeding might only be need 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 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 times 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.
Wheel hoe being used to weed garlic seedlings at a depth of less that one inch to prevent damaging the roots.
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 less whereas on sandy soils it's hard to over water if the watering is spaced out and managed properly.
Watering should stop 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 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 almost none for the whole season.
When watering is needed, we lean on the side of too dry versus too wet due to our heavier soils. We try to irrigate only when conditions are very hot and dry (usually late June and early July) and in spring mostly rely on the moisture stored in the soil from the winter.
When growing hardneck and weakly bolting garlics, scape removal is generally recommended unless you are wanting to let them develop into bulbil capsules. In most cases, 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 removed as early as when the structure first appears to once 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 begin 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 any recipes that garlic is called for.
On our farm, we try to do removal sometime between the scapes being fully coiled to somewhat uncoiled. We find that this is the best balance for us when trying to maximize size while not sacrificing storage ability. Scape removal can be a very big job so we try to give ourselves a bit window in case we get bad weather or there are other delays.
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