Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

Q: When should I plant garlic and how do I go about it? What is necessary to protect it over the winter?

A: The timing of your question is perfect. I will be planting my garlic this week. It is possible that climate change will make later planting necessary; for now, I consider the second half of October the right moment. The soil is still warm enough for roots to grow, but green tops will not develop until spring. Garlic also can be planted in spring, but those plants will make only small bulbs.

Choose a spot with at least half a day of sun for your garlic, and give it good soil with good drainage. Plant the cloves with the pointed end up. Set them five inches apart for enough space to grow to their maximum, and bury the cloves an inch. At this time of year, chances are good that the soil is moist and will stay that way. Unless a spell of warm, dry weather follows, you will not need to water the garlic until next year.

In December you will need to protect the roots from cold with a couple of inches of mulch. Without winter mulch most of the garlic roots would die. Use any organic mulch which is available and inexpensive, even dead weeds. My garlic gets a blanket of pine needles. Only one year did I decide that row cover would be equally good, since it is what I use on my strawberries. It was not. The garlic plants all lived, but the next summer's bulbs were small. Winter mulch stays in place until March.

Planting cloves from this year's best garlic guarantees that they are adapted to this climate. Plant only the biggest cloves and eat the rest, because big cloves grow into big bulbs. If this will be your first year to grow garlic, ask a friend to give you a bulb, or buy one at a grocery store.

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Q: My Brussels sprouts have been eaten full of holes, to the point where there is nothing left for me to eat. Would that mean cabbageworms?

A: Yes. That old garden nuisance the imported cabbageworm has been at work. It likes Brussels sprouts just as well as cabbage, and it can ruin the small heads in short order. It is too late to salvage anything of this year's crop, but it will be easy to prevent tragedy next year. There are two good, organically acceptable ways to protect next year's garden from cabbageworms.

Those worms are the juvenile stage of a white butterfly. Watch for the butterflies' appearance in early to midsummer. Since there are several kinds of small white butterfly, do not worry until you see them flying around members of the cabbage family. Butterflies in the flower garden or other parts of the vegetable garden can be presumed to be different kinds, innocent and desirable pollinators.

If you have only a few plants susceptible to cabbageworms, it will be easy to cover the plants. Use lightweight nonwoven row cover, or any fine mesh fabric. Grow the Brussels sprouts under it for the rest of the year.

The other way to save the sprouts is to kill the cabbageworms with Bt. It is organic, the product of a bacterium that kills only caterpillars. Since you do not want to kill other butterflies, spray Bt only on plants in the cabbage family. There will be no innocent butterflies laying eggs there. Since Bt kills only caterpillars, not eggs or butterflies, it will be necessary to repeat the spraying once a week until the crop is harvested or the butterflies disappear, whichever comes first.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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