October 24, 2012

Planting Susanville Garlic

It's garlic planting time in Davis! October is the month to get your garlic in the ground around here, and now that the first rains have come, you can take advantage of the softer soil and plant your cloves with ease. Actually, around here you can plant garlic anytime between now and February, but I'm guessing you'll get larger cloves the longer the seed clove is in the ground developing roots prior to new leaves emerging.

"Susanville" seed garlic

I start with high-quality garlic from my favorite seed house, Territorial Seed, and usually plant one softneck variety (more cloves, good for braiding, milder flavor and great for storage) and one hardneck variety (fewer cloves form a single circle around a woody stem; wider range and quality of flavors, but slightly shorter storage time). In the past I've had success with the softneck Susanville, which is a variation on California Early, and the hardneck Duganski. Of course you can get your garlic anywhere, but last year when I tried a cheaper source I had problems. Maybe I would have had problems anyway, but this year I'm going back to my old standby source.

Planting a garlic clove

Clove ready for about 2 inches of soil to go back over it

Garlic likes loose and relatively fast-draining soil with plenty of nutrients (what doesn't??) and I've had good luck growing mine in raised beds. Pull apart the cloves from a bulb of garlic right before you're going to plant them (no peeling necessary), and plant in rows 12-18 inches apart, cloves placed about 4-6 inches apart. Plant them with the tip up and cover with about 1-2 inches of soil.

Once all the cloves are tucked into the soil, cover the bed with a layer of straw to protect the soil and keep the cloves cozy. You don't need to worry about smothering the garlic--it will emerge just fine in the early spring right through the layers of straw--but you can help by pulling apart the straw a bit as you lay it down.

Putting straw on the finished bed

Pulling apart the straw

Because neat, tight dry layers of straw fly like frisbees right off raised beds during windy weather, I also lay a few pieces of wood across the finished beds when the straw is fresh. Experience has taught me that, until the rains come in earnest and weigh down the straw a bit more, the wood will keep it from disappearing during a windstorm and save me the work of collecting it off the paths and re-covering the beds.

Protecting the straw from windy weather

Garlic is relatively easy to grow, but if you want more information, I'd recommend the book Growing Great Garlic, by Ron Engeland. Unless you're really into garlic, it has more information than you'll need (a history of garlic, for example), but it also has very practical information about timing of late season watering and harvest, whether and why to remove garlic scapes, problems you may encounter and what to do about them, etc.

Hopefully come next summer, you'll end up with a basket-o-garlic like this!


  1. Saskia,

    The wife that is Venus and I planted our garlic about two weeks ago, also in raised beds like yours. Our varieties were Loken (secret source that nobody will tell me about) CA Early White and Bogatyr. The Early White shot up first, but the Bogatyr has now emerged and the first shoots of the Loken are now starting to peak out of the soil. I'm crossing my fingers for a better year this year, after an absolutely ROTTEN season last year.

    1. Hi Bill,

      I've never heard of Loken or Bogatyr. Have you had luck with them in the past? I love to try out new varieties. I put round 2, a pound of Duganski, in a front yard bed this week. This morning I walked by the Susanville bed, saw what I thought was a weed, went to pluck it out, and realized it was a garlic shoot. I don't remember them popping up QUITE so early last year, but I guess it's okay. Good luck with your crop this year!