Best Garlic Varieties For Alberta
One of the most common questions asked by gardeners and market growers is "what are the best garlic varieties for growing in Alberta?". The usual answer is that choosing a Porcelain variety such as Music is the best choice for garlic growers living in Northern climates with cold winters. Many of the commercial garlic farms and market gardeners across Canada and in Alberta grow Procelains as one of their main crops because it does so well.
Porcelain varieties 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. Most growers who plant Music tend to have great success in their first season and would agree with the fact that it is a wonderful variety.
However, many growers who try garlic varieties other than this standard option, soon discover that there is a whole world of other amazing choices that are suited for growing in Alberta.
In Alberta, although the climate and weather vary somewhat across some parts of the province, there are some things in common. The most important similarity is that most areas have a warm summer with changing day lengths and a cold winter with freezing temperatures for at least several months.
Fortunately for growers in Alberta, there are several families of garlic that thrive in these northern conditions. In fact, they do so well in the province's climate that they grow much better locally than in warmer regions such as the southern United States.
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 Alberta 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 the northern parts of the province.
Best Varieties For Alberta
On our farm, we have planted and tested over 50 different varieties. As time went by, we slowly eliminated the ones that we felt did not perform the best in our Canadian climate. 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 we found to be most successful and that other growers located across Alberta have given positive feedback.
Porcelain (Music) garlic bulbs
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.
Rocambole (Spanish Roja) garlic bulbs
Rocambole garlic is one of the most widely known and grown garlic families in Alberta. They are considered to be one of the best tasting varieties 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 Alberta. Bulbs store for 4 to 6 months and have 7 to 10 plump cloves that are easy to peel.
Spanish Roja - Produces large bulbs with amazing flavour. A Top Choice
Purple Stripe (Chesnok Red) Garlic Bulbs
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 Alberta. The tall crescent-shaped cloves have tight skins that help bulbs store longer.
Bulbs generally produce 8 to 10 medium sized cloves and can store for 4 to 8 months. They have a very good flavour which increases in intensity, complexity and heat as it ages. They are known for their roasting qualities, however, can be used in general cooking as well.
Artichoke Garlic Bulbs
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 8 to 10 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, they are generally regarded as having a less complex taste than other family groups.
Italian Softneck - Large symmetrical bulbs that form braids easily.
Island Star - 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 in Alberta.
About the Author: John Côté owns and operates John Boy Farms with his family who have been farming the same land for over 140 years. As an agronomist and experienced farmer, he helps other growers learn how to grow garlic successfully. He has written many articles and is the author of The Master Guide to Growing Big Garlic.