Fall is usually the time to clean up the garden and shut things down but there is one job that every vegetable gardener needs to do before winter freeze-up — plant your garlic.
In order for garlic bulbs to form cloves, a cold period is required. Consequently, fall planting of garlic is highly recommended. The best time to plant garlic is approximately seven to 10 days prior to freeze-up (early-mid October on the Prairies). This allows some root growth to occur without giving enough time for cloves to sprout to the soil surface.
When deciding on the location to plant your garlic, avoid planting in the same area that garlic, onions or leeks have been grown in over the last two years. Garlic, onions and leeks all belong to the same botanical family (Liliaceae). By rotating with vegetables from other botanical families, pests and diseases will be minimized in your garden. A loose sandy loam soil is best for garlic production. Soil should be high in organic matter and have good fertility. Well-rotted manure or compost should be added early in fall and worked into the soil prior to bulb planting.
Bulbs should be “cracked” and cloves separated from the stem and from each other just prior to planting. Plant only healthy, intact cloves that are free of physical injury. Individual cloves should be planted three to five centimeteres deep with 10 to 15 centimetres between cloves and 30 to 50 centimetres between rows. Plant the blunt end of the clove down for the quickest and most uniform emergence. Immediately after planting, cover the rows with 15 to 25 centimetres of straw mulch, to protect the cloves from extreme winter temperatures. If possible, use straw mulch that is free of grain and weed seeds.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck (also known as Porcelain garlic, Rocambole, Continental, Asiatic or subspecies ophioscorodon) and softneck (also known as Artichoke garlic, Silverskin or subspecies sativum). Within each of these types of garlic there are thousands of different strains available. Some of the more common softneck strains include: Dan’s Russian, California Early and California Late. Common hardneck strains include: Music, Russian Red, Spanish Roja, German Red, Dan’s Italian and Purple Stripe. The names are variable and often not categorized well in many seed catalogues. Whether growing a hardneck or softneck garlic strain, the growing requirements are the same.
Hardneck garlic gets its name from the woody stem encircled by the cloves. This woody stem culminates in a “scape” or a curled protuberance at the top of the plant in early summer. The scape should be removed soon after it emerges, to encourage bulb growth. Scapes that are picked soon after emergence are succulent and can be eaten fresh, pickled or used in cooking. These scapes provide a delicious precursor to what will be harvested later in the season. Hardneck garlic evolved directly from wild garlic and has the real garlic flavor, compared with softneck garlic which tends to have more of either a very hot or very mild flavour.
Where can you find garlic bulbs to plant? Check out your local farmer’s market for garlic suppliers. Some of the grocery stores in Saskatchewan are also carrying local garlic. Imported garlic in the grocery stores often comes from overseas and may have been sprayed with substances that prevent the garlic from sprouting, so avoid planting this garlic. Mail order suppliers of garlic in Canada include: The Garlic Garden (www.garlic.becquet.ca); Salt Spring Seeds (www.saltspringseeds.com); Richter’s (www.richters.com); Boundary Garlic (www.garlicfarm.ca); William Dam Seeds (www.damseeds.com).
While growing garlic may not be as colourful as growing roses, it can definitely be as rewarding, especially when you bring that “stinky rose” into the kitchen. Happy planting!
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; email@example.com). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events: The Saskatchewan Perennial Society begins its Public Education speaker series on 7:30pm Wednesday October 24. These events are held on the 4th Wednesday of October, November, January, February, and March at Emmanuel Anglican Church, corner of Dufferin Ave and 12th Street, Saskatoon. See the SPS website for upcoming gardening topics.