Growing Garlic

Planting Grocery Store Garlic May 29, 2019 10:00

It is very common for beginner gardeners to try and plant garlic that they bought from the grocery store as seed garlic. More often than not, they are disappointed with the outcome because the garlic produces very small bulbs, or even worse it doesn't even come up. A small number of people have had success doing this, however this is rare and in general is not a great idea. 

Grocery store garlic is often sprayed with chemicals to delay the bulbs from sprouting. It also has a number of potential problems when trying to use as garlic seed. Most grocery store garlic is grown in China or California where they have issues with diseases, viruses and parasites (nematodes) that could potentially invade your soil. The garlic bulbs might look ok, however these microscopic invaders can easily stay hidden until the right conditions arise. Many of these garlic pests can enter your soil once the garlic seed is planted and infect your growing plants. Once present, it can take many years (even decades) for some of these pathogens and parasites to disappear from your soil.

In addition, California and China have much warmer climates than many of the locations where gardeners grow garlic. This means that the store garlic is often not adapted to the local growing conditions and will most likely grow poorly. Not growing the right garlic for your climate, often results in a waste of a growers time and a huge disappointment when it comes time to harvest.

It's best to stick with trusted garlic seed sources that you know will work for your region and climate!


Planting Garlic In Spring February 20, 2019 10:04 7 Comments

Planting Garlic In SpringMany gardeners do their garden planning during the winter or very early spring. This process includes looking through all the seed catalogues and deciding what they will be planting for the coming season.

Sometimes, this includes wanting to plant garlic in spring even though it is not generally the best time of year. In colder climates like Canada and the Northern United States, this can be a challenge and often requires a few strategies to get the best outcome.

In the northern latitudes, most garlic is planted in the fall as the plants require a natural dormant period that includes cold temperatures. When you plant before winter, the garlic puts down roots until the temperatures freeze and then waits until the next season to continue growing. This fall growing period allows the garlic plants to get a head start and then explode out of the ground once temperatures warm up in spring. That's why garlic is often one of the first crops emerging from the soil.

Although garlic is ideally planted in fall, dedicated gardeners should not be discouraged from planting in spring. It is still possible to grow and harvest, beautiful, excellent tasting garlic. The following tips are the most important things to consider when getting ready to plant in spring.

(1) Finding Garlic Seed

The first challenge for many growers is finding spring garlic bulbs to plant in the first place. Most garlic varieties offered by seed companies (including our farm) are only available in late summer or fall. However, you can often purchase "spring garlic seed" at garden centers or greenhouses. This garlic is almost always a softneck garlic and does not need very much cold exposure. That means that the bulbs can usually be planted right after they've been purchased. 

Regular food garlic you find in the grocery store is generally very poor for planting. The bulbs are often treated to prevent sprouting, can be up to a year old and have a high risk of carrying viruses or diseases that most growers wouldn't want to introduce into their soil. As well, almost all commercial garlic is grown in warm regions like California or China. If you live in a colder climate (such as Canada and the northern half of the United States), these "warm season" varieties are not well suited for growing. 
 

(2) Cold Exposure

If planting a hardneck garlic variety in spring, the bulbs will need some cold exposure for proper growth (although, softneck garlic can also benefit from some cold exposure). The ideal temperature is 0 to -3 degrees Celsius when trying to vernalize or "trick" the garlic cloves into thinking they went through winter. This process can be challenging without the help of mother nature, although refrigerator temperatures (usually 1 to 2 degrees Celsius) can also work. 

Vernalization can be accomplished by placing the garlic in a refrigerator (as cold as possible) for at least 2 to 3 weeks. The longer the period of cold exposure is, the stronger the effect. That means that when time allows, a more extended period of up to 2 months in cold storage can be beneficial.

Without vernalization, the garlic plants will not form bulbs properly, producing single clove bulbs called rounds. These rounds are perfectly good to eat and can be replanted in fall with success. They should develop good-sized bulbs with multiple cloves the following summer.

If using refrigeration for vernalization, it is important to remember that it can dehydrate the garlic over a longer period. Some growers place the garlic in a plastic bag (sometimes with holes for ventilation) to prevent excess drying. This often works well, however, you must keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it does not develop mould, rot or start sending out roots. If the roots start growing, it's best to plant the bulbs soon after.


(3) Early Planting

Another important strategy is to plant spring garlic as early as possible. That means planting the garlic cloves as soon as the soil is workable and long before you would consider planting any other garden crops. Even if the forecasted temperatures are for extremely cold weather, the cloves should still be planted. Garlic plants are very cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures well below freezing. 

Garlic is sensitive to day length changes and not having enough days with increasing day length can affect whether or not there is the formation of cloves within the bulb. That is why planting garlic too late in spring will often form rounds, just like cloves that have not been vernalized properly. For most locations, this means it is best to have planted before the end of May.

Another factor to consider is that warm temperatures increase the rate of bulb formation, meaning that the garlic can mature too quickly. Garlic planted too late in spring won't have enough time to develop large bulbs before the hot weather arrives and the plant starts to shut down for the season. Yes, the garlic will have cloves, however, the bulbs will be very small. In northern regions like Canada, this usually means it is best to plant by early May and in warmer locations like the southern United States, no later than March.    
 

(4) Good Growing Conditions

Spring planted garlic will almost always be smaller than fall-planted garlic. Because of this, early season growing conditions are extremely important. Shelter, fertility and moisture are the most important things you can control.

Choose a location that is protected from the wind, has plenty of sun exposure and warms up quickly in the morning. Using raised beds is also recommended as it helps warm the ground and prevent soggy soil during cold/wet periods in spring. 

Make sure the soil is rich in nutrients and especially high in Nitrogen. This fertility is helpful because the garlic plants will need to grow quickly to make up for the lost growing time in fall. Adding compost is also recommended as it will improve the soil's health, however, it may not be enough to meet the fertility needs of the plants. A high Nitrogen fertilizer (organic or regular) applied in spring is often beneficial.

It is also essential to ensure that the garlic has consistent moisture for the entire growing season. Even a week of dry soil conditions can cause stunting of the bulbs and will leave you with a poor harvest. Make sure that plants receive at least 1 inch of moisture per week on loamy soils and 2 inches of moisture per week on sandy soils.

 If you have experience or some thoughts about planting spring garlic, Leave a Comment Below! We'd love to hear what you think!    


Garlic Varieties For Canada October 31, 2018 15:51 2 Comments

One of the most common questions I get asked by friends and customers is  "what are the best garlic varieties for growing in Canada?". I used to always say that choosing a Porcelain variety such as Music was the best choice for garlic growers living in cold climates. The reason for this was that everywhere I looked, the large commercial growers and many of the market gardeners seemed to be growing it. In my mind, this meant that it must be the only smart choice out there!

On our farm, we also found Porcelain garlic varieties to be a great choice in general. They have large vigorous plants that are extremely hardy and produce large bulbs that store well. Music is no exception and is definitely a top pick when it comes to quality and flavour.  

However, after a few years of growing this standard choice, I started to wonder if there were any other, more interesting types of garlic that would also grow well in colder climates? I soon realized that there was a whole world of amazing garlic varieties and started to learn about which ones were best suited for growing here in Canada.    

Canada's Climate

In Canada, although the climate and weather vary greatly across much of the country, we do have some things in common. The most important thing in most regions where garlic can be grown is that there is a warm summer with changing day lengths and a winter that is usually pretty cold. This describes most of Canada and it turns out that there are several families of garlic that thrive in these conditions (especially cold winters). 

The most, cold hardy garlic varieties are in the Hardneck group, of which there are several subgroups or families. Of these families, the Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Rocambole garlics tend to perform the best under normal Canadian growing conditions. There are also some hardy Artichoke (Softneck) varieties that have been adapted to cold climates and can do well even under the harsh winter conditions of Western Canada.

Best Varieties For Canada

Since we started growing garlic many years ago, we have tried planting over 50 different varieties and have over time slowly eliminated the ones that we felt were not the "best". Every garlic variety had to follow simple criteria in order for us to continue planting it. They had to have vigorous plants, large bulbs with nice appearance, be able to handle wet conditions, not be prone to disease and have great flavour.

The following are the varieties that have met these criteria, including our top picks!

Porcelain 

Porcelain is popular due to its hardiness and ability to produce large-sized bulbs with a wonderful sweet flavour. Plants have vigorous growth that explodes out of the ground in spring. Large plants with thick wide-spreading leaves. Bulbs produce 4 to 6 very large, plump cloves that are easy to peel. 

Music - Very adaptable and tolerant of cold winters. Top choice.


Purple Stripe 

Purple stripes are cold hardy and require exposure to cold temperatures in order to thrive and develop large bulbs. This makes them well suited for growing in Canada. The tall crescent-shaped cloves have tight skins that help bulbs store longer. Bulbs generally produce 8 to 12 cloves each and can store for 4 to 8 months. They have a very good flavour which increases in intensity, complexity and heat as it ages. Are known for their roasting qualities, however, can be used in general cooking as well.

Chesnok Red - Good cooking garlic, with beautiful colouring.
Italian Purple - A Standard choice for use in cooking, especially sauces. 
Persian Star - Cloves have stunning colour and deep flavour. Top choice.

 
Rocambole

Rocambole garlic is one of the most widely known and grown garlic families in Canada. They are considered to be one of the best tasting and are often the first choice of chefs and garlic lovers. They have a deep, complex flavour. The plants are cold hardy and require exposure to cold temperatures in order to thrive and develop large bulbs, making them well suited for Canada. Bulbs store for 4 to 6 month and have 8 to 10 plump cloves that are easy to peal.

Legacy - German heirloom with a rich flavour. Stores well.
Spanish Roja - Produces large bulbs with amazing flavour. Top Choice


Artichoke (Softneck)

Artichoke garlic is named for the way the cloves are arranged inside the bulb, which looks much like the layered structure of an artichoke. They have 10 to 14 cloves of various sizes. The plants do not produce scapes, which makes them less work than hardneck varieties. They can also be easily braided and are one of the longest storing garlics with a storage ability of between 8 months and a year. Artichokes can have good flavour, however, are generally regarded as having a less complex taste than other family groups.     

Italian Softneck - Large symmetrical bulbs that form braids easily. 
Inchelium - Can grow huge bulbs under optimal conditions. Stores well.

 

Although these are our favourite picks, we do grow a few other garlic varieties that also do very well here in Canada. 


Planting Garlic in Fall September 14, 2018 01:35 14 Comments

Three most important steps to planting garlic in the Fall:

Planting early, at the right depth for your soil and considering your winter protection options are all important steps to getting you garlic off to a great start in the fall.


When to harvest Garlic July 6, 2015 03:08

Many new gardeners and growers will often ask the question "when is the best time to harvest my garlic?" or "how do I know my garlic is ready to harvest?". There is some debate among garlic growers as to the perfect time for harvesting, but there are a few important guidelines to consider:

Time of Year

In Canada, garlic is usually harvested from mid-July to late-August depending on the region and type of garlic being grown. Although calendar dates can help determine when to harvest garlic in a certain location, they should only be used as a guideline. Garlic maturity and harvest times can be heavily dependant on weather conditions. Spring emergence, summer temperatures and moisture conditions all have an affect on when the garlic plants mature and when they will be ready for harvest. This means that garlic harvesting dates can shift from year to year in any particular growing area.  

Garlic Varieties

It is not a surprise that different garlic varieties are ready to harvest at different times. This can make things tricky if you have a number of different types of garlic in your garden or field. Although knowing the type of garlic you are growing will not give you a specific time when to harvest, it can help you to be prepared for when to start observing the plants.  

Generally, Asiatic and Turban garlic varieties will be harvested on the early side. They tend to mature very quickly and need to be harvested before they lose too many bulb rappers and split open. Other garlic varieties belonging to the Porcelain, Rocambole and Artichoke families take longer to mature and can be left in the ground longer.

Scapes

In hardneck varieties, scapes are formed during the growing season and removed before they fully form (see scape removal for more information). The garlic bulbs are usually ready 2 to 4 weeks after the scapes have emerged. This is not the main signal for when to harvest the garlic, but gives you an idea of when to start paying closer attention.

Garlic Leaves & Bulb Wrappers

The most reliable signal of when to harvest your garlic, is to observe the number of garlic leaves that have died versus the number that are still green. Garlic will continue to grow and increase its bulb size as long as there are still green leaves on the plant. This means that you want to leave the garlic in the ground growing for as long as possible to maximize bulb growth, but not so long that they start to deteriorate.

For Hardneck garlic, it is usually recommended that the bulbs are dug up when half the garlic plant leaves are still green and half are brown. Some growers like to harvest when there are still 1/3 of the leaves green and others when there are still 2/3 of the leaves green. This comes down to personal preference and depends on a few factors such as how much cleaning the garlic will require, how long you want the garlic bulbs to store once harvested and the garlic variety being grown.

It is important to remember that the number of leaves on a garlic plant corresponds to the number of bulb wrapper layers. This means that as the leaves turn brown and die, the corresponding bulb wrappers begin to die and deteriorate as well. For example, if you have 6 green leaves when a plant is harvested you should have 6 layers of bulb wrappers protecting the cloves and allowing for cleaning and handling of the garlic. If you have no green leaves, you probably have bulbs with exposed cloves that are unprotected. 

Softneck garlic varieties can usually tolerate a longer period of time in the ground leading up to harvest. They tend to have tighter, more durable wrappers that can usually handle a little more stress. Some growers wait until half the garlic plants have fallen over as the signal that harvest should begin. Although this works in some cases, it is still a good idea to follow a similar strategy described for hardneck garlic, as they share the same principles around the number of leaves and bulb wrappers.


Caring for Garic in Spring May 3, 2015 08:54

Weeding Garlic
Taking care of your garlic early in spring is important...and fun! 

So it's spring time and your garlic has either survived the winter or was recently planted in spring - Now what? Most of us are excited to get out into our gardens or fields but are sometimes unsure as to what to start with. On my farm, there are three import things that I do every spring when caring for our garlic. They have worked well for years and I have found that they get the garlic off to a great start.

Plant Scouting

Spring is the first good opportunity of the growing season to assess the health of your garlic and to see if there are any problems. Checking your garlic (or any other garden or field vegetables) regularly is very important and helps you to grow strong healthy plants while avoiding potential problems that can come up.

On my farm, I check the garlic almost every day in spring and every other day during the peak growing season. I have found over the years that plants can look perfect one day and then an issue arises seemingly overnight. This can be insects showing up, a disease problem or even something like poor growth from low nutrient levels.

Noticing a problem right away can give you important time to find a solution. Most problems start small and are easily dealt with when found early. Also, pulling out weak or diseased plants starting at the beginning of the season is a good opportunity to start making selections and weeding out any plants that aren't in good condition and may cause you problems later.

Weeding

My whole philosophy around weed control is "weed early, weed often, all season long!" I have found this to be especially important with garlic as it is notoriously poor at suppressing weeds and has trouble competing with other plants. That means that getting an early jump on weeding the garlic beds can save you a lot of headaches later. It's important to remember that when the weather warms up, weeds can explode in growth over a few days and this can make cleaning the garlic bed way harder than it needs to be.

On my farm, I start weeding as soon as I can see the rows of garlic coming up, even if the weeds have barely come out of the ground. Sometimes I even weed when it looks like no weeds are present, however if you look under the soil you can see small weeds the size of a string starting to come up. That's my favourite and easiest time to clean them out.

Fertilizing

Garlic is generally not considered a big feeder or to have major fertility requirements. A garlic bed with healthy garden soil and lots of compost is usually good enough. However it is still important that garlic plants have enough nutrients to grow strong and healthy for the whole season. 

In spring, it is especially important for garlic plants to have adequate levels of Nitrogen so that they can grow all the leaves needed to help form large bulbs later in the season. Soil amendments added in the fall like compost often have high levels of organic matter with adequate amounts of nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and most micronutrients but sometimes lack enough available nitrogen. Generally, amendments like alfalfa pellets, fish meal or other organic fertilizers contain higher levels of nitrogen.

So if it has been a cold, wet spring or if your garlic plants have been stressed early on in the growing season, it is always a smart idea to give the soil a little nitrogen rich top dressing every few weeks. This will feed your garlic important nutrients and make sure you have good sized bulbs at harvest time.


Growing Garlic in Manitoba March 12, 2015 15:59 1 Comment

Garlic & Manitoba's Cold Winter

Growing garlic in Manitoba can often be a challenge for people because of the extreme growing conditions. Often we just don't know what to expect when it comes to weather and that can make for an interesting garlic growing experience. Although we usually don't know when spring will arrive, how much rain we'll get or when the first frost of the year will hit us, there is one thing we can almost always expect, an extremely cold winter! Although a cold Manitoba winter can be tough on our bodies, it generally is a good thing for growing garlic.

Most garlic varieties such as Porcelain (which many gardeners & farmers grow across Canada), Purple Stripe and Rocambole do best in cold climates like Manitoba. This is because for garlic to grow and perform well, it needs to go through a dormant period where it is exposed to cold temperatures.

Fall Planting

In Manitoba, this means that we need to plant our garlic in the fall sometime. Although planting garlic in the spring is possible if you expose the garlic to cold temperatures artificially (such as a very cold refrigerator or controlled freezer that stays above -4 degrees Celsius), our season is usually a bit too short and the garlic either forms smaller bulbs or single cloved bulbs called rounds. 

On our farm, we usually start planting garlic during the 3rd week of September and hopefully are finished by the first week of October. Some growers in Manitoba choose to start planting around October 15th, but we've found that this is a bit more suited for climates such as Ontario or British Columbia. Our experience is that planting in September leaves enough time for the garlic to develop a strong root system, but not have the first leaves emerge from the ground before spring.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

I have spoken with many people that grow garlic, however, two very experienced garlic growers come to mind when I think about mulching. One of them was an older Ukrainian lady from north of Winnipeg, who said that she had never covered her garlic with mulch and that her garlic grows great year after year without any problems. That sounded good to me! The other grower was from southern Manitoba and said that she always covers her garlic with a thick mulch, no less than 8" to 12" thick. Her belief was that our winters are too cold and that the mulch protects that garlic in her garden. That sounded like a lot of work!

So I really liked the advice from the Ukrainian lady and decided that on our farm, we would always grow garlic without mulch. It just seemed a lot easier to manage without having to spread all the straw over the garlic beds and less work is always a good thing on a farm. That was until the winter of 2013 and the extreme cold that came with it. The cold temperatures along with a more exposed location decimated a huge portion of our garlic crop for that year. When spring came we discovered that over half of our garlic had winter killed. Not good!  

Today we use mulch on all of our garlic as an insurance measure. We feel that we just cannot depend on getting enough snow every year. Since we've been mulching, there have been no issues with winter kill, even when planting in the same exposed location. Good news for the farm! 

So why such a difference from one grower to another or one year to another? The reason is that it depends on the amount of stable snow cover that a grower receives in any particular year. If you live in a location that is very sheltered and receives a lot of snow every year (especially early in the season) then it is fairly safe to plant garlic without mulch. If you have an exposed location that tends to have snow blown around, then using mulch for your garlic is probably a very good idea. 

For more detailed information on topics like garlic seed, soils, planting depth, harvesting, etc. go to our growing garlic page.    


Difference between Hardneck & Softneck Garlic March 10, 2015 00:46

Garlic Scape
Above: Garlic Scape

How to Identify Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic:

For the most part, being able to tell the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is easy. Hardneck garlics generally send up a flowering stock called the scape (similar to when an onion bolts). This scape starts at the base of the garlic bulb and goes up through the neck. This stock causes the neck of the bulb to have a "hard neck" and hence the name. With softneck garlic, this scape structure is lacking and therefore the garlic keeps it's "soft neck" at harvest time.

Hardneck Garlic
Above: Hardneck garlic with their distinctive hard stocks

Braiding & Bunching

Due to the softer neck, softneck garlic can be braided after harvest whereas hardneck garlic can be put into bunches or trimmed. Softneck garlic tends to also store much longer than hardneck garlic. This is because bulbs skins on softnecks are much tighter around the neck which prevents moisture on the inside of the bulbs from leaving and prevents diseases on the outside from getting in.

Climates:

In general, hardneck varieties tend to be more suited to cold climates, whereas softneck tend to thrive in warmer environments (although with a bit of care, both can be grown successfully in most places). Hardnecks have also been around for much longer than softnecks as they more closely resemble the wild garlics that humans first harvested thousands of years ago.  

Within the softneck and hardneck groupings, there are specific garlic families. These families all have different characteristics, however all share the same habit of either forming a scape structure or not. To complicate things a little bit, some families within the two garlic groupings will only form a scape under certain environmental conditions (such as cold winters). Most garlic growers call these weakly bolting, although they are technically considered to be hardnecks. 

HARDNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Purple Stripe
Marbled Purple Stripe
Glazed Purple Strip
Porcelain
Rocambole
→ Asiatic (weakly bolting)
Turban (weakly bolting) 

SOFTNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Artichoke
→ Silverskin