Oh, time for garlic!

Planting garlic cloves in mid to late October will help get roots established before the ground freezes. Shoots may not emerge from the soil until the following spring. Separate the individual cloves no more than two days before planting. I like to use organic hardneck garlic from Johnny’s Seeds and cloves harvested from the summer (one wise community gardener uses the largest cloves she harvested so that she is propagating larger cloves over time).

Plant them with the base of the clove 2-3 inches deep with the pointed end up. Row spacing may vary, but spacing 4 inches apart within rows is satisfactory. Spacing will depend on the size of your planting and the space you have available. Plants can be arranged in rows 12 inches apart.

After planting, mulch with 3-4 inches of leaf or straw mulch. It will help with weed control, and will reduce fluctuating temperatures during the winter and early spring. Be sure to water in plants after you are done with the planting and mulching.

The Michigan State Extension Service is an excellent resource for home gardeners. Here is a link to one of their many articles about growing garlic https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/grow_your_own_garlic_this_fall

When is it time to plant?

When spring arrives, I can’t wait to work in the garden, but when is it too early?

The USDA hardiness zone map breaks the United States into zones based on average minimum winter temperature. That is, the coldest temperature we are likely to see each winter, on average, for a given location in the country. This is critical information for choosing landscape trees and shrubs since winter cold is one of the main determinants of where plants can survive.

In Michigan, our hardiness zones range from 4a in the western Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, to 6b in the southeast and along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. Chelsea, Michigan is in zone 6a (-10 to -5 F).

Each winter, on average, the risk of frost in Chelsea is from October 5 through May 4.

Almost certainly, however, Chelsea will receive frost from October 19 through April 19.

It is almost guaranteed that Chelsea will not get frost from May 20 through September 21.

Our frost-free growing season is around 154 days.

Here is a terrific resource on when to start and/or plant seeds based on the last frost date https://awaytogarden.com/when-to-start-seeds-calculator/

Vegetable Rotations

As a new community gardener, I made several mistakes in planning my haphazard garden plot last summer so I’m taking time during the winter months to work on a better plan for the upcoming season. One planning resource I’ve been using is the book “The New Organic Gardener” by Eliot Coleman. Eliot has been a market gardener for over 40 years and is quite knowledgeable about effective intensive organic gardening.

One area of garden planning I want to work on is plant rotation. Descriptions of the benefits of crop rotation can be found in the earliest agricultural writings of the Romans. Firmin Bear, a researcher at Rutgers University, has determined that a well-planned crop rotation strategy is worth 75% of everything else that might be done in an organic gardening, including pest control, tillage and fertilization. Crop rotation is the practice of changing the crop planted on a piece of ground each year. The successive plantings do not make the same demands on the soil for nutrients, nor do they share the same insect pests or diseases.

Based on years of experience and research, Colman suggests the following tried-and-true vegetable rotation:

  • Potatoes follow sweet corn.
  • Sweet corn follows the cabbage family (including broccoli, kale and cauliflower).
  • The cabbage family follows peas.
  • Peas follow tomatoes.
  • Tomatoes follow beans.
  • Beans follow root crops.
  • Root crops follow beans and/or potatoes.
  • Squash is grown after potatoes.

Happy garden planning!