So you are almost ready to plant garlic after you prep the ground for it. Once you have choosen a site that has not had garlic or onions growing in it for at least 3 years and you have decided wether you want beds or just rows. I like raised beds because I can grow three rows on 3 foot beds to save space, and the soil warms up earlier in the spring time. If tillage is your method of prepping, then till after you spread on a 3 to 4 inches of compost. If you are not tilling, there are many ways to prep your beds. Braodforking the area is great to aerate the soil as well as loosen up any weeds that need to be removed. Spread on compost a week before planting and remove weeds again at planting time. You can do this prep even earlier and lay on a tarp or cardboard to smother weeds that will try to germinate. Remove the covering and plant the garlic right away. There are many ways to build fertility in your soil, cover cropping/green manure, relay cropping, which ever way you choose, the micro-organisms in the soil will benefit.
Garlic is planted in early October, 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes. The cloves should have enough time to develop good roots before the winter sets in, but if planted too early, shoots may be encourage to grow up out of the soil. This is a potential for frost damage.
Separate the cloves of each bulb and set each one, pointed end up, 10-15cm (4-6″) apart in a row and with the tip of the clove 2-5cm ( 2″) deep in rich, well drained soil. Be careful not to scrape the clove on small stones and hard debris! Use a dibbler to make the holes prior to planting. Use deeper planting holes if it rains excessively or there is a potential of frost heaving that may expose the cloves during the winter and when no mulch will be placed on top of garlic . Garlic can be planted a bit shallower when using mulch or planting into heavy soil. Once the ground is sufficiently frozen, sometime in November, mulch with a weed free loose mulch such as straw, chopped leaves, grass clippings and even shredded paper. You can plant your garlic into garden mats that have pre-made holes or use fabric or plastic landscape cloth. Here at RCF, we just use straw since it adds more organic matter to the soil that is a benefit for the cover crops that will follow the harvest. Once spring time rolls around, remove the straw from the garlic beds if it’s on too thick and the garlic tips cannot push their way through.
Once the garlic is harvested, it is best to quickly cover the area with a new crop, often called a catch cover crop that will utilize the remaining nutrients and recycle them back into the soil with the help of microbes. I use buckwheat as soon as the garlic is out. I then broadcast fall rye into the standing crop of buckwheat in september. A week later I mow the buckwheat high, or use a weed eater to knock it down to allow the rye seeds to grow thru the buskwheat stalks. If equipement is limited, I suggest that you grow a cover crop that will winter kill but will still hold the soil from rain and wind erosionduring the winter. The best and cheapest choice would be oats.