Garden Help Desk: Why does my stored garlic spread open?
Some of my heads of garlic have spread open. Why did this happen? Did something happen while it was growing, or while they were curing? Are the cloves still OK to eat? Will it still last as long in my pantry?
Garlic heads can open like this if they are harvested late. Garlic is generally ready in early to mid-July, depending on how warm the early summer weather is each season. Don’t plan your harvest by the calendar, though. Instead, make a note on your calendar to begin watching your garlic for readiness the last week of June. Next year, harvest your garlic when the leaves begin to yellow. Don’t wait until the leaves are brown and dry.
The open cloves are safe to eat, but they won’t store as long, so you’ll want to use them up first.
Sometimes, the cloves in open garlic heads will get green. This happens because the cloves spread apart a bit and are no longer protected by the papery skin that should cover them. The cloves are more easily exposed to sunlight. Those cloves are really just the swollen bases of the garlic leaves that grew during the spring and early summer. They will naturally begin to form chlorophyll because of the sunlight. Cloves with a greenish color are usually bitter, and they will dry out faster in storage. You can reduce the chances of problems like this if you’ll make sure you cure your garlic in a well-ventilated place away from direct sun. Or better yet, use up any open heads of garlic without waiting for them to cure.
I’ve grown great garlic for many years, but for the past two years I’ve had to harvest my garlic earlier than I expected because the cloves already had green sprouts poking out. They’ve been smaller, too. I used the best cloves from last year’s harvest, planted them in a new spot in the garden, and watered the same way I’ve watered for years. Why were the cloves small and sprouted again?
It sounds like you’ve been saving and planting garlic some of the garlic you harvest from year to year. Garlic picks up viruses easily, and over the course of several years of saving and replanting garlic you can expect to see problems like the ones you’ve described- sprouting, maturing early, just doing poorly in general.
There’s nothing wrong with saving your biggest and best heads of garlic to plant for the next season, but you should start over with fresh, certified virus-free garlic every three years. If you’re going to start fresh, order your garlic now while selections are good. Don’t wait until planting time.
Why do some of my tomatoes get brown, rotten spots on the ends?
This is called blossom-end rot (BER), a common disorder of tomatoes. It also happens to peppers, squash and similar vegetables. Some varieties of tomatoes are more susceptible to BER than others and you’re more likely to see it on large or oblong-shaped tomatoes. Choose varieties that are described as blossom-end rot resistant.
The problem is caused by a calcium deficiency in the tomato. Don’t add calcium to your garden soil, though, because our soils have more than enough calcium. Instead, we need to water deeply and consistently so that our plants can move some of that abundant calcium all the way to the end of the tomatoes where it’s needed for good cell wall formation.
For most gardens, water tomatoes deeply every 3-7 days during the heat of summer, depending on the weather and soil type. Avoid both drought stress and frequent watering, as chronically wet soils make it hard for your plants to develop the robust root system needed to move water and nutrients like calcium efficiently. A light layer of mulch over the soil can help to even out soil moisture.
Be careful with your weed control and avoid cultivating near the base of your plants to avoid damaging their root systems.
The first few tomatoes of the season may have BER. This can happen when the first fruits are set while soils are still cool, and roots aren’t getting the calcium your plants need. The problem usually corrects itself once soils warm up a bit more.