When planting garlic in the fall, where do you find your garlic supply? Do you purchase garlic from the grocery store, from seed companies or from the local farmers market?
This seems like a redundant question! What difference does it make where you purchase your garlic? It’s all garlic. Just purchase it where ever and plant the individual cloves. Right?
If you’ve grown garlic before, then you probably know it’s best to plant certified seed garlic. If you are new to planting garlic, then further explanation is necessary for a better understanding of why seed garlic is best when planting garlic cloves in your vegetable garden.
During my first years as a vegetable gardener, I did what most people did. I either went to the grocery store to purchase my garlic for planting, or purchased from the farmers market. If I purchased garlic from the grocery store, I assumed organic garlic was perfectly sufficient for planting. It smelled good and looked perfect. I knew it hadn’t been sprayed with pesticides, making it good enough for planting. Alternatively, garlic sold at the farmers market also seemed perfect for planting. It was organic, locally grown and gorgeous.
Although both these garlics are perfect for eating, they’re not so great for planting.
Why it’s Best to Plant Seed Garlic in Your Vegetable Garden
Why is there a problem?
The problem is nematodes in the soil where garlic is grown.
Have you ever planted garlic and noticed upon harvesting that many of your garlic bulbs seemed brown, rotting, misshapen, missing skin or even roots, stunted in growth, with entire plants having collapsed in the soil?
If you have, then your garlic was infected with stem and bulb nematodes (Ditylenchus dipsaci) (Abawi & Moktan, 2010).
Stem and bulb nematodes are destructive plant parasitic nematodes that affect many of the allium crops, specially garlic. This nematode can cause entire crops to collapse and was first discovered in California in 1935. Since then it has spread throughout North America and into Ontario and possibly further into Canada.
The parasite is extremely contagious and will live in the soil for up to 4 years and spread on plant material.
What can you do to avoid stem and bulb nematodes from infecting your crops?
- Plant only certified seed garlic. Seed garlic is available through seed companies. It has been tested and is guaranteed free of this nematode or other parasites. Since it spreads primarily through plant material, it is best to avoid planting uncertified garlic in your soil, because once introduced it is difficult to eradicate.
- Since the parasite may live in the soil for up to 4 years, it is important to rotate your garlic crops. Don’t plant garlic in the same spot, unless you know for sure it is clean seed. In addition, avoid planting any Allium family crops in that soil during that time period. If you don’t feed the parasite, it will have nothing to feed on or lay it’s egg into, therefore causing it to perish.
- When planning your vegetable garden and choosing a planting location for your garlic, select a new, allium-free planting location for your seed garlic. In my garden, I had new raised beds built with fresh soil. I then planted my garlic in these beds and harvested clean, nematode-free garlic bulbs the following year.
- If you don’t have the ability to build raised beds, dig a new bed directly in the soil. A new location will have fewer chances of contracting and spreading stem & bulb nematodes through your crop. Also, ensure this bed hadn’t grown celery, peas, lettuce, hairy nightshade, Canada thistle or flower bulbs, as they too may be susceptible to the bulb nematodes (Abawi & Mokton, 2010).
- If you would like to increase your garlic supply and seed garlic may be pricey, consider planting garlic bulbils. Garlic bulbils are true garlic seeds that develop at the top of the garlic scape. When the scape matures, it produces a flower bulb. As the flower bulb matures, it produces garlic bulbils, which look like tiny garlic cloves. These cloves are clones of the mother plant. Each scape produces a large number of bulbils. A few garlic flowers and you can quickly increase your garlic supply. However, this method requires time and patience. I discuss the benefits of planting garlic bulbils in this post.