"I am thinking of getting soil delivered to freshen up my garden. What season should it go in? Does it make a difference when soil is added? Or should I add compost or manure instead?" Lana Austin via e-mail
The best time is to wait until very early spring to spread toppings. Additions spread in fall tend to get compacted by winter rains and some nutrition leaches down through the soil out of the reach of plant roots.
But there's also the issue of what time is most convenient for you. There's an old garden saying: The best time to do something is when you have time.
If you spread a topping in fall, you can avoid soil compaction by planting a cover crop such as winter rye or covering your newly topped bed with a thick mulch such as straw or grass clippings.
Compost from your own garden can be spread repeatedly, but manure and toppings from outside should be varied so there's less likelihood of overloading your soil with any particular ingredient.
"Where can I buy organic Russian and Yugoslavian garlic? We love garlic and would love to encourage locally grown garlic businesses. Unfortunately, my garlic did not make it this year. Why?" Gloria Hall-Proehl via e-mail For local garlic, farmers markets are the place to look between now and October. Farmers markets happen all over Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, usually on weekends. Obtaining clusters of eating garlic/seed garlic in fall is easy.
The hard part is matching the varieties you want with the right farmer at the right time in a place reachable by you.
The Russian garlic you're looking for is probably Red Russian - a hard neck with very large cloves.
But there is also White Russian garlic. This has very small cloves that are exceptionally long-keeping (well over a year), but so fiddly to prepare for cooking.
There are a huge number of different garlic varieties. Yugoslavian is excellent. But so are Persian Star, Saltspring, Fish Lake No. 3, Mountain Top and Red German.
All these are hard neck with large cloves. All the hard-neck garlics are resistant to braiding.
Chinese garlic can be braided. It's a soft neck that produces large clusters of smallish, rounded cloves. Greek White is another soft neck that keeps longer than most hard-neck garlic (but not as long as White Russian).
Virtually all soft-neck garlics produce smaller cloves but more per cluster. Hardneck garlic plants produce larger cloves but fewer of them. You'll be sure to find some good garlic at farmers markets this fall. It may not be the exact variety you're looking for, but you'll be able to see it before buying and know it did well in local conditions.
About your garlic failing: rich, moist soil in a sunny place is the nutrition it needs in the growing season. But planting in September or October is very important because it enables the roots to get a good start before winter.
I wonder if you kept your garlic watered through the unusual hot spell we had in May? It likes evenly moist soil until about mid-July, when it begins to die back and can be encouraged to dry out and be ready for harvesting.
Also important is taking off the garlic scapes immediately as they develop. The very young scapes can be eaten.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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