There is nothing better than homegrown garlic, especially if you are a garlic connoisseur! Garlic can be grown very successfully in our Northern climate. It requires a long growing season of ten months, so by planting it in the fall, it gets a head start for the following year. Planting garlic in September will allow the cloves to form a good root system before winter sets in.
Garlic bulbs are now available at the garden centre, along with the fall bulbs such as daffodils, tulips etc. Currently we have eleven different varieties of garlic. Regular, Red Russian, Siberian, Legacy, Music, Metechi, Elephant, Bogatyr, Duganski, German Hardneck, and Mexican Purple. For best results, don’t plant the garlic available at the grocery stores, as it is often treated with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting. If you harvested garlic from your garden, and still have some, those can be planted also. A garlic bulb consists of individual cloves which are separated just before they are planted. When separating the cloves, try not to damage them, do not peel them, and plant only the healthy cloves. As with bulbs, the bigger the clove, the bigger bulb it will produce, so only plant the bigger cloves and save the little ones for eating.
Garlic grows best in a sunny location. It prefers a well drained soil, such as a sandy loam with lots of organic matter. It does not do well in a poorly drained soil. Prepare the soil first by working it to a depth of 20-30 centimetres. Plant each clove with the pointed end, up 7-10 cm deep in the soil, spacing the cloves 10-15 cm apart, in rows 45-50 cm apart. Give it a light water and mark the rows, so that in the spring you will know where the garlic is planted and they are not tilled up accidentally. Place a good layer of mulch such as shredded leaves, straw, or peat moss over the planted garlic cloves, to give it some extra protection over the winter months. Snow is also a good insulator, and can be placed over the area.
Remove the mulch in the spring. You will notice new green shoots emerging from the soil. If the soil becomes dry, give it a good water so that the soil is moist but not wet. Too much water will prevent the garlic from keeping, and too little water will produce small, irregular shaped bulbs. By mid June stop watering the garlic because the plants no longer need it. The garlic plants will produce a large central stalk that will grow straight up and then loop once or twice with a ‘scape’ appearing at the very tip. The scape, if left on the plant, will produce a bulbil consisting of small aerial cloves, which is in place of the true flower. These tiny cloves can be dried, separated and replanted again in the fall but it will take 2-3 years before they become large enough to harvest. If the scape is not removed, it could take energy away from the garlic bulb growing beneath the earth, making it smaller. It is suggested that the scape is removed just after the stem is curling, when the bulbil begins to form.
Garlic scapes are a tasty treat, and can be steamed, stir fried, or used in recipes specific for garlic scapes. One year we left the bulbil on the plant too long and they re-seeded themselves in our garden and we ended up with lots of small shoots and new garlic plants emerging.
Garlic is ready to harvest in late July/August, when half to one-third of the leaves turn yellow. Before harvesting everything, check first by digging one bulb up, and if the bulb is large and the surrounding wrappers are intact it is ready to harvest. Garlic that stays in the ground too long, will have deteriorating wrappers and will not store very well.
Dig the garlic up, using a pitchfork. Do not try to pull them up as they have a long root system, and you will only end up harming the bulb. Garlic bruises easily, so you want to be careful as this can affect its storage ability. After the bulb has been dug up remove the excess soil store in an airy place, out of the sun for a few weeks. It can be hung in bundles or placed on wire mesh racks. After the tops and roots have dried, they can be cut off, or you can braid the tops of 10-12 stalks together and hang them. Garlic can be stored for 6-8 months in a cool (0-4 C), dark place with air circulation.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road