Garlic, Potatoes, & Other Crops

If you have a plot of land with hard, gritty soil and want to grow vegetables and flowers, you can achieve your objectives without much trouble or expense.
All you need is a horse or two, a few packets of seeds, and a hose that doesn’t quite shut off.
This is the testimony of Fred Hlavaty, who lives at the northern tip of the Santa Clarita Valley in Agua Dulce. On a piece of ground that was barren just a few years ago, Hlavaty has created a lush vegetable garden and a huge border of self-sowing flowers.
He attributes his success at growing vegetables to horse manure and trickle irrigation. Once a year, he works well-rotted manure, collected from his own corral, into the soil of his vegetable garden; he also uses it as a top dressing. The manure is composted in a pile with grass clippings. Its decomposition is hastened with the help of a small rototiller, whose turning and churning action aerates and fluffs the pile.
Someone once suggested that the success of a vegetable garden depends on its proximity to a barn or stable. Manure and straw are supremely valuable when used as soil amendments.
Hlavaty planted his winter vegetables late, in January and February. By the first week in June, most had been harvested, but there was still one large cauliflower to pick.
“To succeed with cauliflower, you have to wrap the heads – as soon as they begin to grow – in the surrounding leaves,” he said.
He still has a large crop of garlic and onions in the ground, planted
from sets (small bulbs). White, yellow and red onions thrive in the gritty soil of Agua Dulce, and a mild variety of garlic has produced 3-inch diameter bulbs.
Recent medical studies indicate that garlic should be planted in everyone’s garden. Supposedly, regular consumption of garlic will lower blood
pressure, fight infections and even prevent cancer.
In the garden, garlic has the added benefit of keeping away insect pests and pathogenic soil fungi.
Garlic may be planted in fall, winter or early spring. Cloves are set 1 inch deep with the blunt end down and the pointed end up. Cloves should lie 3 to 4 inches apart in rows 12 to 16 inches apart.
Developing garlic plants require ample mineral nutrition (work in plenty of compost) and, owing to their shallow roots, more water than other cool- weather crops. A heavy mulch will improve growth.
Hlavaty also is proud of his potato patch. He has carved out and planted eyes of ordinary russet potatoes with good results. Although potatoes generally are recommended for late winter or early spring planting, Hlavaty
put in some new eyes just a few weeks ago; the foliage already has grown about a foot high.
As we were talking, a van drove up with a delivery of rooted sweet potato shoots. It turns out there is a farmer in Livingston – near Fresno – who goes by the name of “Sweet Potato Joe” and ships shoots to potato enthusiasts. On 400 acres, he grows yellow, orange and red sweet-potato varieties. As this goes to press, Hlavaty is planting several dozen shoots of Garnet, Jewel, Golden Sweet and Beauregard sweet potatoes. He is hoping for a mild summer, since too much heat inhibits growth of the tubers.
Hlavaty has found that the most effective way of watering his vegetables is with a trickle of water from a hose that won’t quite shut off. As we toured his property, he returned to his potato patch at 20-minute intervals to move the hose.
A large flower border along his driveway is bursting with orange and yellow Calendula offininalis, the pot marigold. Although an annual, this plant is constantly in bloom because of its self-sowing ability. Hlavaty is partial to it because it blooms even in the winter.
Plants that self-sow are especially useful on large properties where color is needed but landscaping is unaffordable. By throwing down seeds of certain species that self-sow in geometric progression, you can colorfully cover large areas within a few years.
Flowers that readily self-sow include California poppies, lupins, clarkias, four o’clocks, bachelor buttons, hollyhocks, coreopsis, red flax, linaria, annual candytuft, borage, white alyssum, feverfew, columbine and pincushion flower.
Tip of the week
Place a 4-inch layer of mulch around your plants to reduce watering this summer. Make sure the mulch does not come in contact with the trunk, stems, or shoots of the plants themselves; such contact can lead to fungus disease.

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