Wednesday, 11 July 2012

growing garlic

Ontario is a good place to grow garlic. So it's not surprising that there are many dedicated garlic festivals from Perth's in August to Stratford's in September and Evergreen at the Brickworks in October this year. But for the garlic grower there is a progression of activity in the garlic bed all year long except in the winter.

There are two types of garlic - hardneck which produces a scape and soft neck which can be braided. Different varieties range in size from the very large Porcelain often with only four cloves to smaller varieties which tend to have six to ten cloves per head.

Garlic is planted in the late summer or early fall not unlike other spring bulbs. It is best if it doesn't sprout in the fall when the tender emerging growth could later suffer winter damage. It is usually the first crop to make an appearance in the vegetable garden in the spring. Growth is fast and by early June (or late May this year) the hardneck varieties have developed a flower stalk or scape. Scapes are removed to allow the plant's energy to be focussed on the bulb.
The garlic bed masquerading as a flower bed (filled with self seeded annuals)

Then about a month later green garlic is ready. For this the bulb will be smaller than in the mature bulb and the foliage has not yet died back.
Different varieties of green garlic

Then a few weeks later when a half to two thirds of the foliage has yellowed the garlic bulb has matured and is ready to be harvested.
Garlic hanging to dry in preparation for winter storage

The bulbs are hung for a week to ten days until they are dried sufficiently to be stored for the winter. The stalk is cut off, the roots clipped and the top dirt-laden skin is removed to reveal a beautiful white papery protective skin. Garlic likes to be hung with lots of air circulation at a relatively warm temperature.
The end result

Then at the time the festivals are happening the best heads are used for seed for the next year's crop. Heads are broken into separate cloves and the whole process starts again.

And it is worth noting that garlic from your local farmers' market or CSA will not be irradiated - literally exposed to radiation to promote shelf life. So the Ontario garlic may seem expensive compared to those net bags of five perfect looking garlic bulbs from China but you really do get what you pay for.

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