October is Garlic Planting Time!

If you live in Michigan, October is when we usually plant our spring-flowering bulbs, and that includes garlic. I’ve written an entire post with the details about how to grow garlic, but I figured it might be fun to share some step-by-step photos of this year’s garlic planting.

This year, we ordered Red Chinook garlic. It’s a hardneck variety, which is essential here in our cold Michigan climate. One pound of garlic yielded around 60 cloves — if every clove grows into a bulb (or head) of garlic, we’ll have over a head of garlic per week after next year’s harvest.

I might need to plant more.

Most hardneck varieties of garlic provide 5 to 7 cloves per head, so if you don’t use a ton of garlic in your cooking, a pound of garlic should do it for you. We use quite a bit more than that, so I’m thinking of trying to get my hands on another pound of garlic before the month is up.

Buying Garlic for Planting

I usually order my garlic in August or whenever seed catalogs start emailing me that they have garlic available. The earlier you order, the better chance you have of getting the variety you want — certain varieties tend to sell out quickly. So I order in August or September, and then the company ships the garlic at the right time for planting, which is great — you don’t have to worry about storing your garlic before planting and it won’t dry out on you. Once you have your garlic, plant it as soon as you can so it can start getting established in your garden.

If you don’t manage to order in time, or if you, like me, just need more garlic, another good idea is to look at your local farmer’s market or grocer for locally-grown organic garlic. You can plant cloves from this garlic as well, and because it’s local, you already know that it grows well in your area.

Planting Garlic

garden bed preparation for planting garlic

As with all gardening, the most important step is prepping the soil. Here at our new place, we have the exact opposite soil we gardened in for all those years in Detroit. We had heavy clay soil at our old place, and here, our soil is very sandy (Kalkaska sand, to be specific). At our old place, we were always trying to lighten up our soil. Here, our main priority is adding nutrients and moisture retaining materials. The funny thing is that in either situation, you want to add lots and lots of compost.

That stuff is magical. Seriously.

So to this bed, which we just dug last month, we added plenty of compost, composted manure, and peat. Garlic likes well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, so all of that composted manure will be appreciated. To up the nutrients in our sandy soil, I also added a slow-release organic fertilizer to the soil and mixed it in. In this case, I added Espoma Garden-Tone. This bed is dug about a foot deep. Garlic likes deep roots, so it will get off to a good start if you take the time to dig the bed deeply.

head of garlic, garlic bulb, planting garlic

When you receive your planting garlic, it will look just like it does when you buy garlic at the grocery store — in heads (or bulbs).

As an aside, how pretty is that Red Chinook garlic? I just love the color of this variety.

So once you have your bed ready, go ahead and separate these heads into individual cloves.

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A quick note: don’t do this too far in advance. A day or two at most, otherwise the cloves might dry out and they won’t be any good for planting. I always divide my garlic heads right before I’m ready to plant them.

Once you have them divided, it’s time to plant. Dig holes or trenches two to three inches deep. If you have heavy clay, as I did in my old garden, sometimes it’s easier to just dig a long trench, plunk the cloves in, and cover it all over. However, if you have nice, loose soil, it’s very easy to either just poke the cloves into the soil with your fingers, or use a small trowel to pull the soil aside, pop a clove in, and cover it over.

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When you plant garlic, make sure you’re planting it right side up. There’s a root end and stem end. The stem end is pointy, and you want that pointing up.

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I like to set my cloves out into the bed first, so I can make sure I’m getting the spacing right. Garlic should be planted about four inches apart.

What’s Next?

Once you have all of  your garlic planted, it’s a great idea to cover the area with four to six inches of mulch. Autumn leaves work (chop them first with a lawnmower), as does straw or shredded bark. The reason we mulch it is to not only keep the soil moist, but also because in areas where we have issues with the ground freezing and thawing during the season, having the mulch in place helps prevent frost heaving. (Frost heaving happens when the ground freezes and thaws and ends up pushing the bulbs, or even entire plants, right out of the soil. Definitely not what we want!)

And with that, you’re done. Next spring, you’ll start seeing the garlic foliage and scapes popping up in the garden, and then you’ll know you’re only a few months away from harvesting your own home-grown garlic.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions about growing garlic, don’t be shy — go ahead and ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: October

October Raspberries

Here’s a quick list of what needs to get done in your garden in October:

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Plant garlic for harvest next summer.
  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Reduce the numbers of overwintering pests and diseases by cleaning up garden debris.
  • Sow more fall crops directly into your garden, including mesclun, spinach, mache, radishes, and carrots.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Remove summer annuals that may be looking ragged and replace with fall flowers, such as mums, asters, ornamental kale, or pansies.

Perennials

  • October is a great time to dig and divide any perennials that look overgrown to you. To protect against a sudden freeze mulch the newly divided plants heavily with fall leaves. Check out our Michigan Frost Dates to find your frost dates.
  • You can usually get good deals on many plants this month, when garden centers and nurseries start running their “fall planting” sales. As above, make sure you protect these new plants with a thick layer of mulch.

Bulbs

  • You can continue planting spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and snowdrops.
  • If squirrels or other wildlife dig up your bulbs, place a section of chicken wire or metal hardware cloth over the area. Pin it down and cover it with mulch. This should protect it from those pesky critters.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.

10 Ways to Recycle a Jack O’ Lantern

It’s the day after Halloween. No sign of the Great Pumpkin yet again, and I’m doing my best to resist the 4 huge buckets of candy in the kitchen. Mmmm….Snickers….

The other sign that Halloween has passed us by is the sight of dozens of carved, soggy, perhaps squirrel-chewed Jack O’ Lanterns sitting on the curb. Much like my obsession with leaves, I confess to wanting to give people who throw pumpkins away a good talking-to. Nearly half of all U.S. households carve a pumpkin every year (at least one!) That’s a lot of waste if even some of us just toss them in the garbage. So rather than raving like a lunatic, I’ll post some constructive ideas here, instead.

10 Ideas for Recycling Your Jack O’Lantern

  1. Chop them up (I just use a shovel) and toss them in your compost bin.
  2. If you like squirrels, leave the pumpkin out and let the squirrels devour it.
  3. If you have a worm bin, cut your Jack O’Lantern into smaller pieces and give it to the worms. They LOVE pumpkin, in my experience.
  4. Via my About.com colleague Melissa Mayntz, cut it in half and use it as a bird feeder.
  5. Chop ’em up a little and place them at the bottom of a lasagna garden or new raised bed. (I think just about every raised bed in my garden was started on a foundation of old Jack O’Lanterns and fall leaves.)
  6. If your Jack O’ Lantern is still pretty fresh (not moldy, soft, or smelly – meaning you just carved it in the last day or so) you can turn what’s left into pumpkin puree. Just remove any soft spots, wax or soot from candles. {You can also turn your puree into pumpkin butter — yum!}
  7. Pamper yourself with a pumpkin puree pedicure.
  8. Puree the flesh, and make your own pumpkin body moisturizer.
  9. Bury it. If you’re not starting a new garden bed, you can dig a hole in an existing bed (perhaps you’re planting some trees, shrubs, or perennials anyway?) and place pieces of the pumpkin in the bottom. Instant boost of nitrogen and organic matter!
  10. Science experiment. If you have curious kids, just let the Jack O’ Lantern sit in your yard for as long as you can stand it. Let them note all of the fun, gross things that happen to a pumpkin as it decays: the mold, the sogginess, the eventual collapse into itself. If you think ahead and happen to set your Jack O’ Lantern on top of your compost pile, you won’t have any slimy clean-up to do afterwards!

So, no more Jack O’ Lanterns on the curb after Halloween, right? Right.

Michigan Gardening To Do List for May

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Planting time is here! We made it through another long, cold winter, Michigan!

Now, it’s time to get growing.

 

It’s time to get those transplants outside and time for more direct sowing in the garden. Just be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast and those night time temps. A late freeze can zap your young plants, ruining all of your hard work. Check out our Michigan Frost Dates page to find the average date of the last frost in your area.

Be sure to harden off your transplants by setting them outdoors during the day and bringing them back inside at night for a week or two before you intend to plant them. And keep an eye on the soil moisture to ensure that your transplants do not wilt.

Also, now is a great time to plan out any succession planting you want to do this year. Johnny’s Select Seeds has an excellent succession planting calculator to help you plan ahead and stay on track.

Here is a quick list of sowing dates for many common vegetables:

Sow Indoors

  • Corn – Through May 21 (This usually does better sown directly into the garden, but if you’re trying to get a jump on your planting, you can certainly give it a try. Just try not to disturb the roots too much during transplanting.)
  • Cucumber – Through May 21
  • Melons – May 1 – May 21
  •  Pumpkins – Through May 21

Sow Outdoors

All of the following cool season crops can be sown outdoors during the month of May. Warmer season crops like cucumbers, melons, squash, and tomatoes can be direct sown toward the end of May (or early June) after soil temps rise a bit and the danger of frost passes.

  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leaf Lettuces
  • Mustard Greens
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips
  •  

Book Review: Mother Earth News Almanac

240x4009780760349854(Note: I received this book for free from Quarto Publishing Group. However, all opinions here are mine. This post also contains affiliate links.)

The original Mother Earth News Almanac was published in the 1970s and, in addition to being a bestseller, it was one of those books that gardeners and homesteaders referred to again and again. It has been out of print for many years, however. Luckily, the folks over at Mother Earth News decided to update the original almanac and release it, and the result is the Mother Earth News Almanac: A Guide Through the Seasons.

First off, I have to say that any gardening book that is organized according to the seasons gains an automatic thumbs-up from me. It just seems the most logical, when gardening and homesteading are, by their very nature, activities that are dependent on trying to do the right things in the right seasons. So we’re already off to a good start.

This is not one of those books that gives you a list of vegetables and then tells you how to grow them — there are many of those books out there already, and I’ve written a couple of them. They’re very useful, and everyone who wants to grow their own food should have a book like that around. But that’s not what you’ll find in the Mother Earth News Almanac. It’s more of a lifestyle book, encompassing the “how-tos” of growing preserving, and cooking food, raising animals, living sustainably, and living well.

It’s the kind of book that gives you tips for actually LIVING. Wondering what it means when a recipe says to “scald the milk?” The Almanac tells you what that means and how to do it. Want to identify the insect pests in your garden and find a natural way to deal with them? Or are you interested in saving money, or foraging for wild foods, or raising goats? That’s what’s in this book: tips to help you live the homesteading lifestyle, no matter what that looks like. It can be in an apartment or on 100 acres; in the city or in the country. What it’s about is taking control of your life and how you choose to live it, and that can be by growing a garden, brewing your own beer, raising hogs, or simply making your own kneepads for working in the garden.

This book is not flashy. The artwork is simple, with a homespun feeling that just perfectly fits the contents of the book. I can see myself relaxing and flipping through the Almanac for years to come, maybe finding new project ideas depending on my mood and the season.

I should also mention the informative tables in the back of the Almanac. I am a lover of tables. They’re just so efficient and useful, and there are several of them in this book. Here are just a few of them:

  • Measurement conversions
  • Gestation table for common livestock
  • Scientific names for household chemicals
  • Garden pests and how to control them
  • Birdhouse sizes for different bird species
  • Food storage help
  • Botanical names for common fruits and vegetables
  • Planting charts to help plan your garden

If you’re interested in living a more sustainable, natural lifestyle, and you are a DIYer at heart, you’ll love this book. If you like the idea of having a project to work on, or finding a better way to accomplish an everyday task, this is for you. If you just want to know how to grow plants or design a garden, there are books out there that will better suit your needs. But if, like me, you’re always ready for a new project, you’ll love flipping through the Mother Earth News Almanac and finding even more ways to live your life more sustainably, mindfully, and frugally.

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: January

amaryllisJanuary. The holidays are over, and a long, cold Michigan winter stretches before us. While some of us embrace winter, some of us are chomping at the bit to get back out into the garden.

The good news for those of us who are counting down the days until spring is that we can start growing several vegetables, herbs, and annuals indoors from seed this month. Below is a list of what you can start sowing now, depending on your approximate last spring frost date.

If your last spring frost is between April 15th and May 1st:
Herbs and Veggies:

  • Onions
  • Parsley
Annuals:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Lisianthus
  • Viola
If your last spring frost is between May 1st and May 15th:
Vegetables and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • Delphiniums
If your last spring frost is between May 15th and June 1st:
Vegetable and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • None yet.
If your last spring frost is after June 1st:
Vegetable and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • None yet.

So, there’s not a ton going on yet, but spring will be in full swing before we know it. This is a good time to gather any seeds and seed-starting supplies you need so you’ll be ready to go when the time is right.

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: December

Photo credit: Borgtex

Here’s your garden to-do list for December:

Seed Starting

  • This month is generally when we begin winter sowing, as long as the weather is consistently below freezing. Even if you’re not able to wintersow yet, you can prepare  your containers and make sure you have plenty of seeds and soil.
  • Sow pansies indoors this month so you’ll have nice-sized plants ready to plant out in containers in March.

 

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Some years, we are still experiencing mild weather, even in December. If we are, chances are good that you still have a few things, such as kale, chard, mache, and carrots growing happily. Continue to water and harvest as needed.
  • If we’ve had a good freeze already, it’s time to sit back and dream of next year’s garden!

Perennials

  • Once the ground has frozen, use fall leaves or other organic matter to mulch perennials that are prone to frost-heaving.

Bulbs

  • As long as you can still find bulbs in the garden center, you can buy and plant them in containers for a beautiful display next spring. Simply plant the bulbs, then place the pot in a protected location such as an unheated garage, covered porch, or garden shed. This is an excellent way to add color to your garden next spring and take advantage of end-of-season bargains!

Trees and Shrubs

  • If the ground hasn’t frozen yet, make sure that you water if we’ve had a long period of drought.

Houseplants

  • Winter is our houseplants’ time to shine. Make sure yours are watered regularly and are getting the proper amount of light.
  • Watch out for pest problems.
  • Consider misting your plants once or twice a day, since dry, heated air in our homes can stress houseplants.
  • Force some bulbs for the holidays: amaryllis, paperwhites, and  hyacinths are all classic bulbs to force at this time of  year.
  • If you’ve purchased a poinsettia for the holidays, make sure to water when the surface of the soil feels dry and give it a nice, bright location in your home.