Planting and prepping in the fall

Fall is the best time to plant garlic, preferably obtained from a local farmer since it should be more used to the climate. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — With a couple of frosts under our belts, the home garden is probably pretty much done in terms of tomatoes and lettuce. While some cold weather crops may still be going strong, there’s no shortage of work that can be done to get the garden ready for next year.


Garlic is one of the best plants to put in the garden because it’s relatively easy to grow, lasts a long time once harvested, and can be used in almost (some would argue it should be used in all) dishes.

Garlic is a member of the onion family, and is planted not from seed, but by cloning through the planting of garlic bulbs.

Garlic is planted in the fall so the roots can begin to grow before it goes dormant for the winter. Then, once spring comes around, the garlic has a head start and should grow more robustly than bulbs planted in the spring.

Your best bet is to get garlic from a local farmer or farmer’s market so the bulbs are used to the climate. But the grocery store works too, though Cornell University warns against store-bought cloves for planting.

“Using cloves from the supermarket is not recommended,” the school’s gardening center says. “They may carry diseases or have been treated to discourage sprouting. Most are also from varieties that are not well-adapted to New York’s climate. Purchase bulbs from mail order suppliers, garden center, or other local source.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension says on its website that commercial production of garlic is considerably higher than it was even 20 years ago, noting that only 11 acres of garlic were reported statewide in 1992, though that number had grown to 360 acres by 2007.

While scientific studies have not found any definitive links between garlic and a number of ailments, garlic’s long history — including to this day — is one of use as a medicine.

“Sumerians (2600-2100 BC) were actively utilizing the garlic healing qualities, and there is a belief that they brought the garlic to China, from where it was later spread to Japan and Korea,” a paper from the National Institutes of Health Library of Medicine says. “Garlic expansion probably occurred in the old world first, and later in the new world.

“At the time when antibiotics and other pharmacy products did not exist, a bulb of garlic itself represented a whole pharmacy industry due to the broad spectrum of effects,” the paper, titled Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic continues. “Most different suppositions involving this herb are mentioned; some of them were so pointless that they disappeared in time, but some of them have remained until the present days. The garlic was given different names that are still in use such as ‘Russian penicillin,’ ‘natural antibiotic,’ (and) ‘vegetable Viagra.'”

Other fall planting

In addition to garlic, fall is the time to plant cover crops. These plants grow quickly and have a number of benefits, according to the University of Minnesota’s Extension program.

“Cover crops form a living mulch in gardens because they grow thickly among each other,” the UMN Extension website says. “They help reduce soil splash and erosion, and keep weeds in check. Cover crops are ‘green manures’ when a gardener turns them into the soil to provide organic matter and nutrients.

“In late fall or the following spring, turn in the dead plant material and plant flowers or vegetables in the new, improved bed. The soil will contain more organic matter and beneficial microorganisms. There will be fewer weeds than before.

“Use green manures in established vegetable gardens after you harvest early-maturing vegetables. You can plant green manure where these vegetables were growing to keep the garden weed-free, prevent soil erosion and add organic matter to the soil.”

Other preparations

The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends gardeners do one final weeding, followed by soil treatments of fertilizer, compost, lime or anything else that might be needed according to soil tests. Gardens can also be covered with mulch before the snow starts to pile up.