Growing Your Own Garlic
Growing your own garlic is certainly worthwhile. It requires a long growing season but the flavour is well worth the time it takes.
Garlic is grown mostly by cloves that are either planted in the spring or in mid-fall. Planting garlic in the fall gives you a headstart on the season as the cloves will have a chance to root before the frost sets in, so that next spring when the weather warms up the garlic is ready to shoot up above the soil. Garlic that is planted in the spring will mature later in the season than fall planted garlic.
Garlic prefers to grow in a well-drained soil that is free of weeds. During the early part of the growing season, it will need even moisture, but as the season comes to an end, stop the watering as this will help with curing and storing garlic for the winter months .
As garlic grows it forms a large central stalk that grows straight up and then loops once or twice. This is called the scape. The garlic scape can be removed and used in any of your favourite recipes. It is very tasty as it contains a lot of oil. If the scape is left on the plant it will continue to grow and form a bulbil consisting of small aerial cloves. The tiny aerial cloves can eventually be dried, separated and replanted again in the fall but it will take 2-3 years before they are large enough to harvest.
Garlic is harvested in late July and August. You will notice that the green stems will begin to die back from the bottom up. When the bottom 3-4 leaves are dead and the top 5-6 leaves are still green it should be ready to harvest. Check one or two bulbs first before digging them all up. Use a pitchfork to dig up the bulb. The bulb should be large and the wrappers surrounding the cloves should be intact. If the wrappers are deteriorating the garlic will not store very well and the garlic should be used for short term.
When it is decided that the garlic is ready to be harvested, get out the pitchfork and dig up the row. Do not hand pull the garlic as this will only result in pulling out the main stalk and leaving the bulb in the ground. After the bulb has been dug up, remove any excess soil being careful not to bruise the garlic as this will result in the bulb rotting. The garlic should be cured by placing it in airy space out of direct 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 the tops can be braided together.
Healthy garlic bulbs can be stored for 6-8 months depending on type and conditions. Store it in a cool, above freezing (0-4 Celsius) dark place with air circulation. If you want to save some of your own garlic bulbs for planting next season, save only the healthy and undamaged bulbs. Store them a room temperature with some humidity to keep them from drying out. Do not separate the cloves until you are ready to plant. This is also true for planting purchased garlic bulbs.
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