Fall Gardening: How to Grow Garlic

I love garlic. I put copious amounts in everything and you haven’t lived until you’ve tried 40 Clove Garlic Chicken. And now, as the weather cools down and you bid farewell to your summer garden, it is the perfect time to start thinking about planting garlic.

When Should I Plant Garlic?

For most regions, you plant garlic in the fall for next year’s crop because garlic needs a period of cold weather (called vernalization) in order to be viable. In Chicago and places with similar climates, mid-September through mid-November is ideal for planting. It is more difficult to grown garlic in warm regions (i.e., zones 7-9), but it is certainly not impossible. (Unfortunately, garlic heads may be smaller.) Areas with mild winters may not provide the vernalization needed by many garlic varieties. However, you can cold stratify and simulate winter by putting your garlic in the fridge for about 4 weeks before planting.

Should I Plant Garlic From the Grocery Store?

I know it’s tempting to just stick garlic in the ground from the grocery store and call it a day. Don’t do it, though! If you get garlic from a good seed seller or producer, you’ll be able to pick from so many different heirloom varieties, which often have better flavor than garlic from the grocery store. Grocery store garlic may also be treated (and therefore not viable for growing) or carry disease. However, you if have a good farmers market near you, you can try picking up some specialty garlic there and planting it. I got my seed garlic this year from Seed Savers Exchange, but you can probably find some at your local garden center.

Softneck Garlic Hardneck Garlic

What Type of Garlic Should I Grow?

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks develop a hard stalk in the center of the bulb, which softnecks don’t. Most people say hardnecks, which are the type you want to be growing in the Chicago region, have bigger bulbs and more complex flavors since they come in so many different varieties; they also produce edible scapes in the spring, which you can also harvest. However, softnecks, which you are likely to find in your grocer’s produce department, can be stored for longer periods of time. Because they are less hardy, softneck garlic tends to grow better in milder climates so gardeners in more temperate zones can try growing it.

Where Should I Plant My Garlic?

Though I continually sing the praises of fabric grow bags, I don’t grow my garlic in them; I choose a sturdy wooden container. Though garlic needs winter to start producing bulbs, it gets COLD in Chicago and fabric bags just don’t protect garlic enough and you end of with no garlic. (Ask me how I know.) Garlic needs plenty of sun and space, since you want to plant a fair number of bulbs to get a good crop. Plant individual cloves, pointy side up, 2 inches apart, in well-draining compost-rich soil. Once you’ve chosen a sturdy container (a raised bed is even better) and planted your cloves, be sure to cover with at least 6 inches of mulch; I like straw.

Garlic scapes harvested earlier this year

When Should I Harvest Garlic?

The cool thing about hardnecks is that you get two harvest from them: scapes and bulbs. In June, your garlic will start to sprout green-onion like stalks in the center. They are delicious (try this Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe)! Even if you don’t like the flavor, though, you need to harvest the scapes so your garlic puts all of its energy into growing bigger bulbs. Once you’ve harvested the scapes, it’ll be about a month before you can harvest the bulbs.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

It’s Time to Start Planning Your Fall Garden

This is the most bittersweet time of year for gardeners—just as you’re harvesting the fruits of your hard labor, the leaves in your garden are starting to yellow indicating that fall is near. It’s the best of times, and the worst of times.

However, even as you begin to clear out spent vines, never fear: Some crops thrive in the waning days of summer and the cooler autumn, so now is the time to start planning your fall garden.

This past weekend, I began mapping out what my fall/winter crops will be and where they’ll live in the garden. The following is the list of plants that made the cut.

Waltham Broccoli

This is a new one for me. I tried to grow broccoli without much success the first year I gardened, so I’ve avoided it until now. I figured I’ve learned a ton by now, though, and decided to give it another shot. This variety is particularly cold-hardy, so it is especially suited to growing in the fall. Check out this story on how to grow broccoli successfully this fall.

When to plant: Transplant seedlings at the end of August or in early September. Broccoli tends to bolt in temperatures above 80 degrees, so make sure you avoid planting it during a heat wave.

Sunlight requirements: Though broccoli doesn’t like it hot, it really likes it sunny so give your plant at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Pusa Gulabi Radish

I love the spicy bite of radishes, but they’re a bit too pungent for my daughter, Molly, though she like the flavor. That’s why I’m growing Pusa Gulabi this year, as they are, apparently, on the milder side. An Indian winter radish, Pusa Gulabi is a brilliant pink color and was specifically bred with high amounts of carotenoids, anthocyanins, and vitamin C to make it extra nutritious.

When to plant: Thought it is a winter radish (radish generally grows best in 50- to 65-degree temperatures), this variety can tolerate summer temperatures so feel free to plant seeds right away. Succession planting every 7-10 days will ensure a continual crop of radishes this fall.

Sunlight requirements: Radishes require at least 6 hours of full sun per day, but they are tolerant of some shade.

Sugar Snap Peas

Another favorite in my household are sweet and crunchy sugar snap peas. Though most people associate them with spring, I’m going to try growing them in the fall this year.

When to plant: These take 100 days to mature, so it’s a good idea to get seeds in the ground by mid-August. Even though this is a cool-weather crop, the seeds need a bit of warmth to germinate so planting them in the last days of summer should give them an initial boost.

Sunlight requirements: Peas require full sun, but if it’s still hot out they can also thrive in partial shade.

Cour Di Bue Cabbage

I chose this variety because it is tender and fairly compact, so it should be do well in containers. An Italian heirloom variety, it ends up being about 3 to 4 lbs.

When to plant: For fall harvest, it’s best to plant cabbage midsummer. This variety, however, is a short-season crop so I recently direct sowed seeds outside. Keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise, transplanting a cabbage seedling now is a good idea.

Sunlight requirements: Cabbage needs at least six hours of full sun each day.

Purple Dragon Carrots

Carrots are sweeter in cold weather, so why not grow them for fall? This variety supposedly appeals to picky kids and adults, so with a son who is a finicky eater, I’ll take all the help I can get! The carrots are also a striking reddish-purple color, which will certainly jazz up the salads and veggie trays.

When to plant: Carrots can take up to 21 days to germinate so put them in the ground now! To encourage them to sprout, make sure you keep the seeds moist at all times. Once they have sprouted, you have to thin them out to ensure they have run underground to grow.

Sunlight requirements: Full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix

If you’re going to put in the time and effort to grow lettuce, it might as well be a variety you can’t find in stores. This blend has several different, brightly colored varieties.

When to plant: Lettuce hates hot weather, so end of August and early September is the perfect time to plant it.

Sunlight requirements: Lettuce can tolerate partial shade.

Japanese Giant Red Mustard Greens

These with its strong, almost garlic-like mustard flavor is my favorite variety of mustard greens. I LOVE it. Seriously. They are easy to germinate and easy to grow and taste best in cool weather.

When to plant: These can take anywhere from 10 to 20 days to germinate, but I’ve never had them take longer than 10 days. Succession plant every 10 days for a continual harvest. They don’t really like hot weather, so take that into consideration when planting.

Sunlight requirements: Full sun but tolerates partial shade.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

5 Tips for Growing Broccoli in Containers and Raised Beds

When I first started gardening, the crop that I was most excited about growing was broccoli.

I decided on a springtime planting in one of my raised beds. Though I nurtured that plant obsessively –I got a pretty stalk with lots of green – a head never sprouted. It was a most frustrating experience.

But after much more practice in the garden coupled with a ton of research, I’ve decided to give broccoli another try. Here are some of the things that I will do to make sure I get a bumper crop of broccoli this year. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Choose your growing season wisely.

Opting for growing broccoli in the spring of Chicago was probably a mistake. An inconsistent season weather-wise, growing spring crops in Chicago – where it can snow even in April – is a difficult proposition. About the only thing I can ever grow successfully in the spring is greens. Anyway, back to broccoli. This year, I decided to try growing broccoli in the fall. Since broccoli can take 50-60 days from transplant to harvest, starting plants in August gives them a long enough runway to give them a good growing season in the waning days of summer so they can mature in cooler fall days. (Broccoli that matures during cool weather tastes sweeter than at any other time.) Also, broccoli can withstand temperature down to 20 degrees, so you can still be potentially harvesting it in December – depending on Chicago’s erratic weather, that is.

Plant it at the right time.

To figure out when to plant broccoli is easy-peasy. If you are direct sowing in your garden, plant seeds 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. According to the Farmers Almanac, the first frost date in Chicago is Oct. 29 – hence the perfect time to plant seeds is in early August. So, get those seeds in the ground right now. If you decide to transplant a seedling rather than direct sowing, plant it 10 days to the “days to maturity” for the variety you’re growing and then count backwards from your expected first fall frost date. For Waltham, the variety of broccoli I’m growing, it takes 50-60 days to maturity from transplant. So, the ideal time to plant a Waltham transplant would be late August to early September.

Choose the right size container – and space properly in your raised bed.

One of the biggest mistakes novice container gardeners make is either choosing a too-small container or planting crops too closely together in their raised bed. For just one broccoli plant, you’ll need a 3- to 5-gallon container that is at least 12 inches deep; I’m growing two plants per each 10-gallon fabric container. (I like fabric containers with handles because they allow me to chase the light in the garden and move plant around with ease.) In a raised bed, plant each sprout 15-18 inches apart.

Pick the right soil, water consistently and plant in full sun.

Broccoli needs loose, well-draining soil to grow properly, so choose soil wisely. The plants prefer slightly acidic soil, rich in organic nutrients so add compost to the planting hole, as well as a good layer on top. Make sure when you’re planting to tamp down the dirt in the pot or in the bed because brassicas like compacted soil. However, broccoli is prone to root-rot so it’s really important to water consistently to help avoid root rot – you want to make sure the soil is always damp, but you don’t want to overwater as broccoli don’t like wet feet. And last but not least, broccoli plants need a LOT of sun – at least six hours a day. The tricky thing about broccoli is that though it requires full sun, the plant will also start to bolt at temperatures above 80 degrees. This is where having your plants in fabric containers with handles come in handy – you can move the naturally cooler containers around to either sunnier or less-hot spots in your garden.

Fertilize and manage pests consistently.

Broccoli is a heavy feeder so it’s vital that you fertilize them at planting with a well-rounded fertilizer (I like Espoma Garden Tone) and a couple of times during the seasons after that. Broccoli also attracts pests like cabbage loopers. You can control them with BT or Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a soil-born bacterium that kills caterpillars like that cabbage loopers that love to munch on your broccoli but won’t harm beneficial insects.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.