In Southeastern Pennsylvania, garlic should be planted from Columbus Day up to the end of October. On their own, the cloves will begin to break dormancy at this time and begin pushing out roots on their stub end and green shoots at their pointy end.
It’s time to get them in the ground so that they can develop those roots to keep them anchored in the ground when the frost causes heaving and to help them find nutrients and water over the Winter and Spring. Given enough time (thus Fall, rather than Spring planting), garlic roots can delve down six feet and find enough water in early Spring to not need irrigation. I haven’t watered my garlic in years and specifically choose varieties that don’t need water in Southeastern PA.
At the community garden, I used rulers and sticks to plot out where the cloves should be planted. However, up-scaling from garden to farm meant that we needed a more standardized, reliable and replicable means of planting the 3,000 cloves we’d like to put in the ground this year.
Frank’s answer is in his hands here:
The garlic planted is the length of the beds (6 feet). The 11 PVC pipes are pointed so that they can sink into the ground when the top of the planted is pressed down. In great soil, they can go down up to 3 inches (in practice, the rocks and clay soil often simply mark where the clove goes, but that works, too!) so that one can simply drop the clove into the hole and toss soil over it. Each PVC pipe is 6 inches apart. At the ends of the planter is a horizontal piece of wood with 6 inches (for small varieties) and 8 inches (for larger varieties) to set the next row of holes.
Here is how the garlic planter works in the field:
In retrospect, after plowing for the raised beds, we should have lightly tilled the top of the beds to make the top more even so that the PVC pipes could make more even holes in the bed. Then, we could just drop in the cloves and pinch the soil to cover the holes as we expected. With the uneven top, I’m taking soil out of the drainage trenches around the beds and putting the soil over the cloves so that they are well-covered. That takes a lot more time. Also, the garlic planter works best with 2 people, but most of the time, I’m using it alone. (If you’d like to help plant garlic with the planter, just e-mail! I’d be thrilled to have someone both to help and to talk to! :-))
So far, I’ve planted 10 varieties of garlic, including German Extra Hardy, Georgia Fire, Music, Metechi and ones from USDA collecting trips to Belarus, Czech Republic (a softneck!), Korea (really unique looking scapes), Uzbekistan (both a purple clove skinned and a white clove skinned), and Tajikistan. I’ll probably add another 4 or 5 varieties before I’m done.
Frank’s garlic planter makes planting easier, but it’s still a “knees in the ground/Mike Rowe-worthy ‘Dirty Job'”. Utimately, however, it’s very satisfying to see the garlic stored in the barn shrink down as it makes its’ way outside and in the ground for its’ long winter root growth.
As a final step, the beds will be mulched with hay/chopped leaves to keep the root/shoot juncture protected during the increasing bitter frosts as Autumn turns to the steady cold of Winter.
Right now, however, it’s still October and we’re still planting. I leave you with this picture of Denise and Mochachino (the barn cat) in the field with the garlic planter, placing the cloves into the ground.