ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
Individual cloves, carefully separated from each other so as not to damage the basal plate of each clove, are planted pointed end up.
I will give fair warning — if you meet me on the street in the next while and we enter into conversation, you may want to keep your distance. If you don’t, you may smell my breath, and it will have a distinct garlic smell!
The bulbs on the right were dug from the soil; those on the left were harvested from the tops of the plants. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Garlic must be dried thoroughly in a shallow tray or box of some kind. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
We have had a great crop of garlic this year. This is a new crop to me; I was given some bulbs last fall by a fellow gardener, and we are reaping the results of a successful garlic growing experiment.
I was given both mature bulbs that my friend had dug up and also some clusters of small bulbs that had formed on the tips of the stems of the plants — shall I call them seeds? The person who gave me the bulbs told me they plant the dug bulbs for use in the fall and then they plant the "seed garlic", which they dig in the fall and use to plant the following year.
Garlic is best planted in the fall and preferably late fall. The ideal time to plant the bulbs is early enough to allow them to develop some roots but late enough to prevent the bulbs from sprouting and starting to grow — early to mid-October generally works in our area.
Plant garlic in a full sun exposure where the soil is rich, well drained, and contains lots of organic matter. Garlic does not like to dry out — in fact, some say that if the bulbs dry out while they are growing, that is the size they stay until harvest.
Care must be taken not to damage the bulbs or individual cloves during the "breaking the bulb" or the planting process. Breaking the bulb — separating the bulb into individual cloves — is best done immediately before planting.
The basal plate of each clove must not be damaged or roots will fail to emerge from the bottom of the clove. Also, damaged cloves may very well develop green mould, a fungus disease that attacks injured cloves.
Dusting the detached cloves with a fungicide during the planting process will assist in warding off this disease. Use gloves to handle cloves dusted with fungicide and be sure not to breathe in any of the dust.
Plant garlic cloves basal plate down and pointy end up. Choose the biggest cloves available as the size of the cloves planted will dictate the size the bulbs will be when harvest time arrives.
Plant the cloves about five centimetres deep and about 10 cm apart in an area of the garden where it will be easiest to maintain consistent soil moisture. The rows can be as close as 10 cm although you might want to space the rows a bit further apart for ease of cultivation.
Be sure to mark the rows so that you will know where the garlic is planted come spring. Mulching the freshly planted garlic with some dry leaves will ensure protection if bitterly cold temperatures arrive before there is adequate snow cover.
The varieties of garlic that perform well in our area are different from those imported by grocers, who mostly access garlic from growers in California. It is far better to use your own or procure some locally grown bulbs to plant.
I found that garlic tends to like the same growing conditions and cultivation techniques that onions prefer. The only difference is that garlic seems to object to being allowed to dry out while onions can withstand a dry spell with no drastic ill effects.
When we harvested our garlic in September, I dried the bulbs outdoors in an open tray and then moved the bulbs into the sunroom to continue the drying process. I made sure to bring the garlic inside when rain threatened.
By early October, the bulbs were complexly dry and the outside papery covering was crisp and crinkled like paper when touched. I try to leave as much as possible of this papery covering on the bulbs that we store for winter use.
Our garlic is stored upstairs in a kitchen cupboard in a large basket. We seem to have no trouble storing the bulbs and use the garlic all winter and well into the spring and summer.
If properly cured and dried, garlic is not hard to store — a dry, dark, warm place is best. The same storage conditions that onions prefer suit garlic very well.
We had never used much garlic in our kitchen, but we are getting used to adding garlic when we are cooking and are quite enjoying this new culinary experience.
Perhaps you will plant some garlic this fall in your garden; next year if we meet up, I won’t comment on your garlicky breath if you don’t mention mine!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 27, 2012