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WICHE: Garlic goes in, and sweet potatoes come out

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Fall crop rotation has more than one purpose

By Jeneen Wiche

There are two categories of garlic to consider: Allium sativum, or softneck garlic and Allium ophioscordon, or hardneck garlic. The majority of garlic purchased in the grocery and grown in Kentuckiana gardens is the softneck variety.

Softneck garlic is the easiest and most widely cultivated because the bulbs are large and the cloves and skins are tight, which prevent moisture loss and allows for longer storage. Through centuries of selection softneck garlic has lost the ability to flower, so it doesn’t expend energy on producing seed. Instead the energy goes towards developing bigger bulbs underground.

Although softneck is the recommendation for our climate, I have to admit that I prefer growing hardneck varieties. Hardneck garlic has the most intense flavor and is easier to peel, but the real bonus is that hardneck varieties produce a flower scape in June.

Once the scape begins to unfurl its flower head, I harvest them, so all of the energy goes to the bulb. And I sautee the scape, turn it into pesto or roast it with every meal. They are absolutely delicious.

It is most efficient to grow garlic from cloves, if you are looking for size and yield. Don’t use garlic purchased from the grocery store, instead purchase planting varieties from a garden center or catalogue.

Dormant garlic should be stored at about 40 degrees for several months before planting. Grocery store garlic has been stored at higher temperatures and may have been treated with an anti-sprouting agent.

Consider, too, maintaining your own seed stock after you have grown garlic for the first time (save some of the largest cloves, refrigerate and replant in October or November.) Your own seed stock will develop an affinity to your garden and thus improve with each year.

Most garlic growers prefer a fall planting over a spring one because conditions are drier. The most important cultural factor is a planting bed with well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Prepare your bed by adding manure or other composted material.

Plant the individual cloves 2 to 5 inches deep, depending on the size of the clove, and space them about 6 to 8 inches apart. Once we have had several hard freezes you can mulch the garlic bed with straw to provide some insulation and to prevent heaving from alternating freezing and thawing of the soil during the winter months but this is not critical.

In the spring add more composted material and a little corn gluten to manage weeds. I rarely have insect problems but on occasion experience some onion maggot problems. Easy solution here is to layer a little sand around the crown of the garlic to deter the adult fly from laying its eggs there and to harvest as soon as the tops begin to die back.

 

Sweet potato harvest

The sweet potato, or Ipomoea batatas, is in the morning glory family and is native to South America (like most potatoes) and should be harvested before a killing frost but not before a hoar frost.

Let our first fall frost turn the foliage black before you dig your sweet potatoes with a garden fork. Let them dry in the sun for a couple of hours and then transfer them to a warm, shaded, well-ventilated area and spread them out on some screens or newspaper.

Let them cure this way for about 2 weeks, dirt and all, before you put them in storage. Before storage use your hands to rub off residual dirt but do not wash them.

You can harvest “baby bakers” as they grow, but the sweetness of the potato is enhanced if you wait until after frost and several weeks of curing. I dug a bunch a week ago and decided it is worth waiting to maximize their rich flavor. The curing process after a frost allows the starches to turn to sugar.

Properly cured sweet potatoes can store for 6 months or more at about 50 degrees. A cool corner of the basement will have to do here.

Some old-time sweet potato growers are emphatic about not disturbing your sweet potatoes until you are ready to eat them. This is why, they say, homegrown sweet potatoes are better than store-bought, too.

Store-bought sweet potatoes see a lot of movement, which causes the sugars to move constantly through the tuber, hastening undetectable spoilage.

The homegrown variety sits quietly, which allows the sugars to settle to the bottom, keeping the tuber fresher and sweeter. I believe it. Homegrown sweet potatoes are far better than grocery sourced.

 

Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.