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Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland – Book Review

     Our new seed office is ripe with the wonderful smell of garlic!  Allium planting season is here and we’re busy shipping garlic and perennial onions.  All our garlic shipments come with a copy of our garlic and perennial onions growing guide, but if you’re looking to get more extensive know-how along with your shipment, consider picking up a copy of Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland. His conversational style makes this book accessible to the layperson while his wealth of experience makes it useful to even the experienced gardener.  Despite having been written over 20 years ago, Growing Great Garlic remains the standard gardening guide for anyone interested in the organic cultivation of garlic.

The Cover of Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland

     The recent explosion of knowledge and interest in heritage vegetable varieties finally seems to be making its way to the onion’s much loved but poorly understood cousin, garlic.  Garlic has found a place for itself in culinary traditions around the world as a seasoning, a foodstuff in its own right and even a confection.  If the produce section at the local supermarket is anything to go by, garlic is a forgettable, small and either gray or gray.  Its flavor is identifiable, but consistent.  It seems any head is as good as the next.

        In this 226-page garlic growing guide, Ron Engeland sets out to introduce the small farmer and home gardener to the many faces of this amazing plant.  The author introduces the main types (Rocambole, Continental, Artichoke and Silverskin) as well as his strategies for cultivation and harvest.  He even helps diagnose garlic diseases, pests and pathogens (from nematodes and thrips to botrytis and yellow dwarf virus).  When your garlic is ready, Engeland walks you through processing and storage, to ensure that your harvest lasts long into the winter months.

        Give Engeland a chance and he will show you that organic garlic can be an exciting crop of diverse shapes, colors and flavors.

Garlic Drying in the Barn after Harvest

Starting Tomatoes from Seed

Tomato (and a few Eggplant) Seedlings   

One of the most exciting things we do here at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is grow our favorite varieties to bring to tomato tastings to share with gardeners throughout the Southeast and beyond. Today I’ll show you how we sow tomato seeds in trays.

First thing, before you start preparing flats, is to determine when to sow. Count back 6 weeks before your average last frost date to determine when to start tomato seeds in your area. Overly large transplants are likely to suffer more from transplanting outside, so don’t sow too early. 5- to 6-week-old seedlings are just right for setting out. For our April 25th last frost date, that means starting seeds around March 12th. We also make a second sowing 4 to 6 weeks later.

Irena Sifting Compost Through a Wire Screen

When we’re ready to sow, we make sure to have plenty of trays and potting mix on hand. We sow in six inch by twelve inch trays with good drainage slots. Trays are easier to keep evenly moist than split packs. For our potting mix, we use sifted compost mixed with peat moss to improve moisture retention. Sifting the compost produces a consistent mixture, without sticks or rocks, which will spread nicely into our trays.

Digging Furrows for Seed

Once we have filled our trays with our potting mix, we draw four evenly-spaced shallow furrows no deeper than your first finger joint along each tray.

Labels and Seed

Next we make labels for each variety and insert them at appropriate intervals before sprinkling seeds into the furrows. Here you can see the density that we use (about 4-5 seeds/in). This gives us extra seedlings so we can choose the strongest and healthiest for potting up later.

From the overhead view you can also see how much variation there is in the seeds among just a dozen of our varieties. Some of the seeds are larger and flat while others are much smaller and rounder (see how small the Yellow Pear cherry tomato seeds are in the third column from the left, second interval from the top).

Check Out the Variation in the Seed Between Varieties
Irena Gently Pinches the Furrows Closed

Then we pinch the furrow together gently, without compressing the soil. We’re just trying to cover them up, not smother them. The rule of thumb is cover to cover tomato seeds no more than ¼ inch.

A Nice Shower to Keep the Seeds Happy

Finally, a healthy watering and they’re ready to go! It is best to use lukewarm water and a watering head that delivers a gentle stream. Keep the flats moist but not soggy until the tomato seeds sprout. Do not let them dry out!

Protect your germinating trays from cool night temeratures.  Tomato seed germinates best at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but the seeds may be damaged at temperatures above 95 degrees. Look for your seeds to germinate in 4 to 10 days.

Tomatoes germinate best in the dark, but move them into bright light as soon as you see the seedlings emerge. Bright light is essential for strong sturdy growth. You can move the trays to a greenhouse or insulated cold frame. Indoors, you can use adjustable fluorescent lights kept 4 inches above the seedling tops.

We keep our seedlings in the greenhouse. A fan simulates a mild breeze to encourage sturdy seedling growth and prevent fungal disease. You can also gently brush your hands across the seedlings one or two minutes a day to condition them.

If you planted into a good well-screened compost your seedlings will only need occasional watering: keep them well-moistened but not soggy.

Four days later we’re already seeing life!