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What to do with volunteers?

Volunteers in a vegetable garden come from several sources: The odd tomato that went bad, fell to the ground and was forgotten over the winter. The random potato or potato piece that had enough of an eye and potato left to sprout again in the spring. The onion set that didn’t grow very well and was missed in digging up the bed and has sprouted again this spring, hopefully to have better luck.

And then there is garlic, which I have written about several times here. With garlic, you can have volunteers all different ways. If you let your garlic bloom, it will form little bulblets in the flower heads and they shatter all over the place. The next spring, they will sprout but they are really too small and the garlic you get from them won’t be very big. But you can eat the garlic greens in salads and they are very good. Or, as in this case, you can end up with a big clump of garlic plants, which means that you missed a garlic bulb last fall and it’s overwintered, growing great clumps of roots and actually becoming very valuable. The garlic that you get this coming fall from these plants will be very very good.

But you have to dig them up. If you leave the clump, the plants will not have enough room to grow proper bulbs. As you can see from the photo, this has quite a lot of plants and most are quite large. In this case, there were 11. So, take your spade and leaving several inches around, dig up the plant and shake off all the dirt.

Separate them out and you’ll see that they will be all different sizes – right in line with the size of the original clove in the bulb. You don’t have to wash these off or anything. But you will want to loosen the soil in the bed so that it is nice and soft for you to replant the plants in.

Treat these just like any other plant you would be transplanting into the garden. if you want to add compost to the soil, do so and fork it in well to mix it with the regular soil. You won’t have to add any real amendments – as a matter of fact, it’s better that you don’t. But compost is fine. Space them out – 6″ around and make the hole with your hand – as far down as you can reach – and put the plant in, spreading out all those little white roots as you do so. Pull soil around the plants up to where the leaves start to branch off and firmly press down the soil around the plant. Then water well.

It’s worth making the effort – For 10 minutes work, I got almost a dozen garlic plants, which will provide me with 11 additional garlic bulbs this fall.

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