Variety is the spice of life
Seeds of Diversity thanks the
J.W. McConnell Family Foundation,
the October Hill Foundation,
The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security
for their support.
Garlic is a very easy plant to grow, even in a small garden. Here are some useful tips for growing Great Canadian Garlic.
Planting: Garlic is best planted three to five weeks before the ground freezes hard. In most areas of Canada plant in October or early November. Garlic likes a rich, soft soil so prepare your garlic bed by digging in plenty of compost. Select the best looking bulbs to plant, avoiding any that are mouldy or damaged since these will more likely rot than grow. Peel each bulb and break the cloves apart gently. Garlic can bruise and spoil, like apples, if handled too roughly. Leave the clove wrappers on and plant each clove separately about four to six inches apart, and about two inches deep (from tip to surface). The bottom of the cloves is the tough flat part that was attached to the bottom of the bulb.
Mulching: Since your garlic must endure the freezes and thaws of winter, it may help to insulate the ground with a layer of straw, leaves or other material. Leaves should be removed in early spring to allow the garlic shoots to grow, but straw is a good all-season mulch because it does not form a mat like leaves do. Mulch during summer helps to reduce weeds and retain moisture, both essential for the best garlic bulbs.
Fertilizing: When planting garlic in the fall, it is good to plant in soil that has been amended with compost (as fertilizer). Top dressing with compost or an organic fertilizer (such as fish with kelp) is helpful in spring when the tops of the garlic are very actively growing. But don't feed any later than the end of May, when bulb maturation is beginning underground as excess nitrogen at this time may delay bulbing, reduce the quality of the harvested bulbs, and decrease the storage life of bulbs.
Harvesting: Garlic is ready to harvest when half to threequarters of the leaves turn yellow. Depending on the weather, this can be any time from mid-July to early August. Check a few bulbs each week until you can feel the stem softening just above the bulb, but the bulb wrappers remain firm. If you leave the harvest too late, the cloves will burst the bulb wrappers and this will reduce the storage life of the garlic. Dig up the bulbs gently with a shovel or fork, shake off excess soil, and lay the whole plants to dry out of the sun. At this stage, the bulbs are very tender and should be treated gently to prevent bruising.
Curing: The best way to prepare garlic for storage is to allow the bulb wrappers to "cure" by drying while still attached to the whole plant. Since the bulb wrappers are the bottoms of the leaves, they can dry out more slowly when the leaves are still present. Lay the plants on a raised surface like a table, or hang in bunches, with good ventilation and out of direct sunlight. Remember that the cloves have never been exposed to direct sun, and they can be damaged by excessive heat just after harvest. A shed or shady side of a building is a good place to dry garlic.
Cleaning: Bulbs usually come fairly clean during the drying process, but you should brush off any excess soil with your hands once it has become dry and flaky. Only wash soil off if it will not brush away (this usually only happens if you have clay soil). Cut the stems about an inch above the bulbs using pruning shears or a sharp knife. Cut the dry roots off the bottoms to produce neat, clean bulbs.
Storing: The best storage conditions for garlic are cool, dark, well ventilated and fairly dry. Avoid storing in plastic bags since this will collect condensation. about 10°C-12°C is ideal.
You might expect garlic to keep well in the fridge, or at low temperatures, but this just encourages it to sprout. Remember that you plant garlic cloves in October; cold temperatures tell them it's time to grow!
Mailing: If you send samples of garlic in the mail (for instance through Seeds of Diversity's annual Seed Exchange), send clean, well-cured, good quality bulbs. They must be sent in a box or padded envelope to prevent damage. Canada Post charges more for a square parcel than for a flat padded envelope. You can carefully break up the bulbs so the cloves will fit in a flatter envelope, but include a note explaining this, so the recipient will not think that their garlic was smashed in transit!