Great tips for Garlic Growing

Garlic is one of the world’s best loved vegetables, not only for its flavor, but also for its long list of health benefits. According to the USDA, per capita consumption has more than doubled since 1990. No other vegetable has exhibited such strong sustained demand growth as garlic. But where has all this garlic coming from? The US and Mexico export some garlic, but the vast majority of the garlic available at the grocery store comes from China. In fact China produces over 75% of the world’s tonnage for garlic (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations {FAO]).

What about Growing Your Own

Getting garlic from China to Canada generally involves ships and refrigeration. The garlic is refrigerated in storage until the moment it goes onto the grocery store shelves. With the sudden increase in temperature the garlic is tricked into thinking it is springtime and it begins to sprout. Sprouted garlic rapidly loses its flavor and texture.

The best way to ensure the highest quality garlic is to grow your own. It is easy to grow and does not need much space. A raised bed, a small container or a tiny spot in the backyard is all the space you require.

What to Plant

The garlic most people are familiar with is the ‘Silverskins’ variety we see in supermarkets. This garlic can be mechanically planted, making it cheap to produce and it stores well – thus its popularity with grocery stores. There are, however, hundreds of different types of garlic.

True garlic has two subspecies, softneck and hardneck. These sub-species can account for as many as 600 varieties of garlic worldwide.

Ten fairly distinct varietal groups of garlic have evolved; five very different hardneck varieties called Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe and Rocambole; three varieties of weakly bolting hardnecks that often produce softnecks called Creole, Asiatic and Turban, plus two distinct softneck varietal groups named Artichoke and Silverskin. Choosing which to grow depends on taste preference, clove size, storage characteristics or availability.

 Successful Planting

A small space can produce lots of garlic. A 4×8′ (1.2×2.4m) raised bed can yield up to 160 bulbs when they are planted at five cloves per sq ft.

Here’s a Checklist to Help:

1. First, make sure the area you are planting in gets good sun and the soil drains freely. Mounding the planting bed or using a raised bed helps facilitate good soil drainage.

2. Incorporate about¼-½” (1 ¼-2½cm) of mature compost and some bone meal into the top 1″ (2.5cm) of the seed bed.

3. Mark out the planting holes. In a small space plant 4 to 5 cloves per sq ft.

4. Crack the bulb apart, removing the cloves from the basal root plate. Do not clean the cloves’ outer skin.

If you want big plants, use only large cloves. The bigger the clove, the bigger the potential bulb will grow.

5. Place each clove in the ground, roots down, tip up, with the tip about 2″ (5cm) below the soil surface.

6. Covering the area with a mulch of leaves or clean straw does helps inhibit weeds, conserve moisture and moderate the temperature of the soil.

Watering & weeding

Maintain even soil moisture with a weekly application of½-1″ (1¼-2½ cm) of water.

Allow the top ½” (1 ½cm) of soil to dry between waterings to inhibit disease and weed development and encourage deeper root growth.

Stop watering about three weeks before harvesting. This will allow the bulb to dry down without rotting. Signs of overwatering can be seen in thin wrappers, fungi/mould, and burst skins.

Garlic that has been overwatered does not store well and should be used as soon as possible. Harvesting is usually done in July and August across Canada, so stop watering in late June.

Weeds can be controlled by mulching over the winter. Garlic is not highly competitive and does poorly when it’s under heavy weed pressure. Stirrup hoes are useful when weeding garlic because they allow close weeding with less chance of clipping the bulb.

Storing Garlic

Successful storage of garlic depends on a number of variables. Here are a few tips to help you with storing garlic.

Dig it up using a flat headed shovel inserted at least 6″ (15cm) away from the bulb. Loosen the soil then pull the bulb free. Avoid garden forks as it is easy to bruise the bulb when digging. Pulling too hard can result in the neck pulling free from the bulb. Gently knock off any soil on the roots and allow the garlic to dry.

A little sun initially is alright, but full sun on a hot day can sunburn the garlic and compromise its storage potential. Bundle the garlic to dry in bunches of 5 or 6 plants. Hang in a warm place (21 °-24°C or 71-75°F) with good air circulation that is sheltered from sun and rain.

Remove any damaged bulbs and set them aside for immediate use. After two or three weeks, trim the roots and leaves and clean up some of the dirt. Store in a basket or a mesh bag in a cool dark area with moderate humidity at a temperature of about 16°C (61 °F),

Well cured garlic can keep for 6 to 8 months. There are several other ways to store garlic, such as drying, pickling or freezing.

Pests

Weeds reduce garlic yields by direct competition for water, nutrients and space. The weeds also reduce air flow and increase the risk of diseases such a neck rot. Routine shallow cultivation will keep the weeds under control and avoid damaging the bulb. Mulching will also suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. Fungal disease organisms such as white rot, basal rot, blue mould rot, leaf blight and neck blight can infect garlic.

To  reduce the chance of disease follow these guidelines:

1. Plant large, healthy, disease free cloves and plant in disease free soil. If there is a history of disease in the garden in other Allium spp. find an alternative area to plant. Crop rotate so there is a 2 or 3 year period between the growing of Allium spp.

2. Avoid excessive nitrogen and irrigation late in the season. Stop watering three weeks before harvest to enable a healthy drying down of the garlic.

3. Practice good weed control to facilitate good air movement.

4. Remove any plants immediately that exhibit disease symptoms.

5. Cure garlic bulbs properly to prevent infection during storage.

Insect pests include wireworm, thrips and bulb mites. The very best way to avoid these pests is through crop rotation.

Do not plant Allium spp. such as onions or garlic in the same location every year. This reduces the build-up of insect pests that are fond of garlic. In small plot gardens it is possible to turn the soil and pick out the wireworm manually, or simply replace the soil with fresh soil mix.

Garlic is a suitable crop for the small plot gardener. It fits easily into a landscape and is easy to care for. The benefits of having premium garlic at hand in the kitchen, along with the knowledge of where and how it was grown, will enhance your gourmet status as well as your health and wellbeing, and it will even help reduce your carbon footprint