Of all the vegetables that I grow, I take great pleasure in our annual crop of garlic. Not only does it require minimal work, but it is also shunned by most garden pests, diseases and even deer! In fact, it is the only edible that is grown outside the boundary of our deer fence, so even if you have an issue with deer, you can still grow a successful crop of garlic. Homegrown garlic is also incredibly aromatic and simply bursts with flavour. There is absolutely no comparison to bland supermarket garlic and once you’ve grown your own, you’ll never go back.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is grown in warmer regions (California and parts of China) and is the type of garlic that is usually found in the grocery store bins. This is mainly due to the fact that it stores very well, often keeping its quality for up to a year and can be braided into tidy ropes for easy and attractive storage.
In our region, the garlic of choice is hardneck, which produces a central flowerstalk, called a scape, that curls like a pig’s tail in early summer. The scapes are another way to enjoy your homegrown garlic and are best harvested when they begin to curl in June. They can be cooked in a variety of ways or turned into a delectable garlic scape pesto for pasta. If left to mature on the plant, the scapes will re-direct some of the energy that goes to producing a bulb, so they are best clipped off soon after they emerge so that you end up with plump bulbs.
Unlike many veggies, garlic is planted in mid autumn, left to winter over in the garden and then harvested the following summer. I plant my garlic in October, which gives the bulbs time to start growing some roots before the onset of winter. Then, in early spring when the green shoots emerge from the soil, I apply a two-inch mulch of compost. Not only does this enrich the soil, but it also helps keep weeds to a minimum.
When first buying hardneck garlic for planting, it can be a bit pricey at the garden center or farmer’s market. You’ll usually be able to find good-sized heads of garlic for $3 to $4, but remember that each one will break into 8 to 12 individual cloves for planting and that just planting a few heads of garlic will yield a good amount of garlic bulbs. Then, in subsequent years, you can save a percentage of your harvest for replanting, always choosing the biggest and best bulbs for the garden. Common planting varieties include ‘Music’ and ‘Korean Red’, but try several different types so that you can taste the subtle differences between them.
When you’re ready to plant, gently divide the heads into individual cloves. Look for a sunny spot with loose, organic soil working an inch of compost or aged manure into the soil. Plant each clove 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart and give the bed a good watering. That’s it! Planting garlic is incredibly easy and the following July, you’ll be able to harvest your own homegrown organic garlic.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.