Wrapping Up the Garlic Season: Rotation, Cover Crops, Pigs, Chickens and Planting

Late fall is planting time at Green Mountain Garlic. Like tulips, garlic needs a cold period (under 40 degrees) in order to flourish the following year. Next year’s organic garlic crop is in the ground!  So we’re celebrating. It’s like putting the little ones to bed after a very long, eventful day.

Here’s how that “day” started: the garlic farm was originally an old hayfield, filed with quack grass. We now have the farm on a four-year rotation, which means that we plant the garlic in a different spot each year. In the off seasons, we plant cover crops -winter rye, oats, and hairy vetch. These cover crops add “free” symbiotically-fixed nitrogen to the system.

This “green manure” builds the soil with nitrogen-rich, organic matter: the oats winter kill and become mulch in the spring; the rye grows back each spring from deep roots that hold soil in place and prevent compaction; and hairy vetch is a great soil improver that grows nitrogen nodes in its roots. Planting these crops late in the season can capture some nutrients in the soil that would other wise be lost.

The pigs and chickens living on the garlic farm this year also contributed to our great soil quality. Both groups were kept in large, moveable solar-electric fenced pens, so we were able to distribute the wealth of their labors while keeping them safe and happy.  The pigs were good at their job, they contributed excellent organic fertilizer while rooting out quack grass tubers. The chickens were terrific as well, soils under their home range needed no further amendments.

Growing garlic is not difficult. Even if you are not a seasoned gardener, you can grow great garlic for your table if you start with great organic seed garlic. You don’t need pigs, chickens and crop rotation in order to grow your own garlic at home, but garlic loves a high pH  level of about 6 or 7. Have your soil tested if you’re not sure and add appropriate amendments.

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