Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

Garlic B&W

Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?

Rotating crops in the community garden.

The brassicas in my community garden plot are currently under siege.

While my tatsoi and kale are perfectly edible, they’ve also been completely shot full of holes, due to a flea beetle infestation (thankfully, I’m not combating cabbage moth or cabbage white butterfly!).  Yes, I ought to have put up a floating row cover, but in truth, I’m not particularly bothered.  I’m only growing for my hubby and myself, and my plot is full of a variety of crops so a few nibbles in the cabbagy-plants don’t trouble me much.  Besides, all of the other growers in the community garden have the exact same problem (except for the thoughtful ones, who did actually employ the row covers since the start of the season), so I don’t feel like I ought to have low self-esteem for culturing pocked plants.

I’m actually more worried about the onion maggot, which made an appearance in my shared plot last year.  One of my fellow growers at the garden told me the other day that she just doesn’t “bother with onions anymore.”  So far I haven’t seen any evidence on my plants, but it’s a lingering threat.

Our garden maintains a rigid “no-spray” policy – and I wouldn’t apply chemicals to veggies even if the restriction wasn’t in place.   I try to grow as organically and safely as I can, and one of the tenets of organic farming is crop rotation. There is no crop rotation governance in place at our community garden, and really, even if there was, how could it be done so that the whole garden would remain pest-free?  On a large-scale or commercial level, or even in a home garden, crop rotation may be a workable solution – but how do you effectively employ it in a community garden?  This is my first year with this particular plot, and should I decide to continue gardening at the site, I will be allocated the same plot next year.   And even if I were to ask for a different plot, it’s nearly a guarantee (just by looking at the produce in everyone else’s beds) that pest-susceptible brassicas and other plants are growing there right now – or were last year.  The general rule is that brassica crops should not be planted in the same spot more than once in three growing seasons, so my fellow gardeners and I are pretty much hooped if we really want hole-free collards and cabbage.  And it’s not just used to deal with pests – crop rotation is also often employed to rejuvenate nutrient-depleted soil, as veggie crops have varying nutritional needs.

Hand-in-hand with crop rotation is the employment of green manures – which, again, can’t really be used effectively in a community garden setting.  No gardener is going to pay for the rental of a plot and grow clover or alfalfa or buckwheat on it just to till it over for the next season…unless the Garden Team designates a few plots each year for the purpose and does not rent them out.  Our community garden currently doesn’t do this.  (At home, growing green manures can actually work, and it may be worth giving over different parts of your garden beds over each year to pursue this great source of ready nutrition for future crops).

So, what is a workable solution?  (Besides the floating row covers, which are on my list of “must-haves” for next year).  I guess it all comes down to this:  a happy plant gives you little or no strife, because it’s less susceptible to munching critters and diseases.   If green manures are doable, use them.  And amend, amend, amend.  Make sure your soil is the healthiest it can be.   I know I’m definitely guilty of not adding nearly enough compost to my plot this season, and the soil texture leaves a lot to be desired as well.   Give plants a specific balanced diet of macro- and micro-nutrients.  Keep on top of the watering and weeding.  Plant crops at the right time of year, in the proper location, so that they have their best chance at thriving and producing.  Try to ward off the baddies with intercropping or trap cropping.

And even with all of this, the pests may still come.  It’s just part of gardening!  🙂

What do you think about small-scale crop rotation?  Do you rotate your crops at home (or in your community garden plot)?  Do you grow green manures?   

Flowery blurbs, volume 9.

Life-glowing season ! odour-breathing Spring !

Deck’d in cerulean splendours !vivid,warm,

Shedding soft lustre on the rosy hours, And calling forth their beauties !

balmy Spring ! To thee the vegetating world begins

To pay fresh homage.

-“Ode to Spring” by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)  Read the whole poem here.

I know, I know, I’m a bit early – spring is officially eight days away – but I figure it never hurts to be organized.  (Yeah, that’s it).  The truth is, even though we’ve had an unusually mild winter here in Calgary, I’m just that anxious for the change of season, excitedly counting down the days until the first bulbs poke up out of the earth:  crocuses, scilla, anemones, and glories-of-the-snow.

The zen of tulip maintenance.  (Sort of).

I don’t plant tulips anymore – while I’m honoured to provide a banquet for the local squirrels and hares, my pocketbook simply can’t take the hit.  Instead, I buy fresh cut tulips whenever I can find them and put them on display in my rodent-free livingroom.  If you’re like me (that is, tormented by insatiable tulip-munching adorable furry critters) and you buy your tulips from a florist or at the supermarket, try these tips for keeping them fresh and beautiful for as long as possible.

Thumb’s up for this northern Alberta biomass conversion project.

In the small city of Whitecourt, Alberta, fast-growing poplars and willow trees are being grown in waste water and sludge cast off of the water treatment plant.  The idea is to harvest these trees as fuel for the city’s wood-burning power plant.  Four other municipalities in northern Alberta are working on similar projects, and involvement and interest is increasing.  While this isn’t a new concept, nothing of this scale has yet been undertaken in the province.  Read about this interesting venture here.

What’s in a biofumigant? 

Glucosinalates, to be exact.  These chemical compounds are naturally produced by members of the genus Brassica (broccoli, kale, mustard, etc.) and, if grown as part of a cover crop and rotation strategy, are capable of destroying certain soil-borne diseases that may affect other food crops, such as potatoes.  Read about how they work here.

Vertical farming ideas abound. 

Ground-breaking has been undertaken on an – ahem! – groundbreaking vertical farming project in Linköping, Sweden.  Do you think we’ll be seeing a lot of these domes in the future, or is this just a one-off thing?  (Presumably, if Plantagon has anything to say about it, these greenhouses will eventually be sprinkled all over the world).  Read all about it here.

Peel appeal.

Whether you grow your own fruits or veggies, or purchase them at a farmers market or grocer, consider saving the peels and rinds and using them for everything from natural fabric dyes to natural cosmetic treatments, flavoured sugars, and tasty, oven-roasted chips.  Make sure everything you use is organic and scrubbed really well, and use this handy guide as a source of inspiration.