Our group design discussion explored ways to make planting garlic cloves a mechanized process, or at least more ergonomic and/or efficient for the planter. The primary challenge in planting is that the cloves should be planted with the base of the clove downward for optimal yield. The variation in clove size and shape makes this orientation a very challenging issue to address mechanically.
Our group discussed three overall approaches:
First, continue to plant from the chair of a tractor-pulled transplanter, but improve worker comfort and efficiency by limiting their task as much as possible to the selection and orientation of the clove by employing some manner of additional implement which digs holes or furrows for the clove, then smooths the dirt over the planted clove. This might save discomfort on the planters' hands byn minimizing soil contact, eliminating the necessity of pushing the clove into the soil
and manually closing the soil over the clove. Details of these additional implements were not discussed in detail as they seemed similar to existing implements. This would, at best, seem to provide a modest improvement.
Second, improve planter comfort and efficiency by eliminating soil contact entirely by means of a new planting device. We conceived an implement consisting of a conveyer belt of cups or cylinders into which the planter places the clove, which then brings the cupped-clove to the soil surface and then plants the clove. Solutions to the clove-orientation issue included cups that contained flexible rubber fingers or hairs which would hold the clove in the position it was placed by the planter and against the force of gravity as the cup turned over, accomodating different sizes and shapes of cloves, before the clove was then pushed out of the cup by a plunger coming from the bottom of the cup. The clove could also be placed right side up in the tube, then pushed from the top of the tube out the bottom into the ground. This mechanical solution seemed to best isolate the tricky task of clove orientation as the planter's sole responsibility, mechanizing the rest of the process.
Finally, we discussed use of a hopper-planter system which would fully automate the orientation and planting of the cloves. We universally agreed that a properly functioning system that fully automated this process would yield the greatest savings in time and labor, possibly eliminating the necessity of any additional labor beyond the tractor operator, as well as allowing the tractor to likely move considerably faster. However, according to one study of currently available hopper systems we found online, the current hoppers have unacceptable problems with clove orientation and damage, resulting in losses approaching 30%-60%. We also discussed the liklihood that hopper systems might have issues with clove size and shape variation. The groups' ulitmate conclusion was that further study and development of these hoppers would likely yield the only improvement which would warrant the purchase of a new implement.