Seeing the new garlic popping up through the mulch this year makes us so happy!
We have high hopes for this garlic crop.
Our experience with the garlic last year was upsetting. First, most of the crop grew very poorly. It was stunted (smaller than normal) and "ugly" (odd coloring, strange markings) and some of it literally rotted in the ground. We eventually figured out that our garlic crop (all three varities) had succommed to a virus (most likely due to stressfull weather conditions over the past few years). The bulbs were edible, but we could not use our own stock to replant in the fall.
Second, we had quite the ordeal finding and purchasing new garlic to replace our infected stock. We found a local grower with beautiful garlic, but he would not sell to us because he sees us as "competition". Finally I found a good on-line supplier with a decent price for garlic. We ordered a lot! (We were choking on the price tag but considered it a vital investment.) We wanted to have enough garlic stock to plant so that the following year (2011) we could give it to our CSA members, sell some at the market, and then have plenty to plant again in the fall. When it came time to receive the order, we received bad news from our supplier (a garlic grower back east) that he could not fill our complete order. He was cutting us back to only 40% of what we needed. Not good!
Next, we quickly searched around for another source of high quality garlic stock and learned that many garlic growers across the nation were experiencing crop shortages, even failures like ours. The only sources we could order from were charging very prices which we could not justify spending. At this point we came to a difficult realization. The garlic we had purchased would not be enough. If we planted all of it in the fall, and replanted that entire crop again the next fall, we could be back up to our previous garlic crop levels by 2012. But for 2011, we would not have any extra for the CSA or to sell.
Last fall we planted our beautiful newly purchased garic stock. It was a little on the small side (really nice BIG garlic costs $$$). But we got it planted just fine and Shain even roped off the area with stakes and brighly colored tape to make sure nothing bothered our precious efforts. Then about a week later a cow got loose in our fields and proceeded to run through the garlic patch. Thankfully, a helpful neighbor came to my rescue (Shain was already back to teaching school by then) and the overall damage was kept to a minimum.
The end of the story is that we decided not to take any chances and that we better make sure to put a nice layer of mulch over the garlic patch. We don't typically mulch our garlic and haven't for years. But we figured we'd already experienced enough challenges getting this crop in the ground, why tempt fate any more than necessary. On the very day that a heavy snow storm was coming into the valley (which ended up being the first heavy snow fall that didn't ever melt), we were out spreading a thick layer of hay over the garlic. (We don't want to tempt fate, but we probably push her a little too close to the limits this time.)
Throughout the winter we've though about the garlic. We've wondered how it was doing under ALL that snow! Many times we expressed our relief that we got that layer of mulch spread in the nick of time. When spring came and the garlic was still under snow, we were a little worried that it would make it. Then the snow melted and we could see tiny shoots of green poking through the rows of dried hay. Seeing that new garlic growing (after all we've been through) really makes us both very happy! We are on our way back to having a great garlic crop again someday.