Not every year gets to be a huge success for every crop, even one that has routinely performed very well for you. It was with surprise and a growing sense of dismay as I watched my garlic crop this spring not put on the vigorous greenery I have come to expect. Bulbs didn’t start forming until late, and the harvest revealed a crop that was mostly undersized and much of it poorly formed. The largest head (shown above) was a good size but smaller than I’ve come to expect. When your garden hands you a poor crop, the questions are always “why?” and “how to I prevent a repeat?”
Pests and disease: I investigated the crop carefully, but found no signs of either. This is really good news, as a problem like nematodes could prevent me from growing garlic for years to clean the soil. More about garlic diseases can be found here.
- Improper fertilization: A lack of nitrogen, or simply an imbalance in nutrients, could cause the poor top growth, and garlic can’t produce good bulbs if there isn’t enough greenery to photosynthesize. I’ll send off a soil sample for testing before planting fall crops in a few weeks.
- Weather patterns: We can’t do anything about the weather, but observing and recording patterns can help you plan crops and set your expectations. We had an unusually cold winter and rainy spring, and I plant garlic in late fall. Although garlic is easily hardy enough to survive those conditions, fewer warm sunny days could have limited its growth potential.
I’m leaning toward blaming the weather because it wasn’t just poor top growth, the crop came in late. That won’t stop me from sending off that soil sample.
Small heads of garlic are just as edible and tasty as the larger ones. I planted extra garlic this year since so many people had asked me for seed garlic; I wanted to have more to share. As it turns out, the extra crop means we will still have enough garlic to last us for the year. I can either select the best heads for my crop this year, or purchase new seed stock. Garlic seed stock is expensive; I think I will muddle through with what I have and plant extra again next year, just in case I need a transition year to rebuild my seed stock back to its former size.