Not only does garlic have a strong flavour (and tendency to leave behind strong breath!), it has a strong history as well. It has been used as food, medicine, currency, and even as an offering to ancient Egyptian gods. There’s also plenty of folklore about its magical powers. Folks used to believe it warded off evil spirits, witches, and vampires, and protect you from the black plague when rubbed on the windows and door frames of your house.
However, garlic also has plenty of appealing non-magical qualities. It’s affordable, easy growing, self-replenishing, and even keeps deer away. It can also grow nearly anywhere, even in the Northwest Territories. Here in Powell River we can grow any variety of garlic we want. As it turns out, there are more varieties than the two common kinds they sell in the grocery store.
If you haven’t tried growing garlic yet, why not pick some up from the garden centre at Mother Nature and plant it this fall?
What Kind of Garlic to Plant in Powell River
Garlic is a part of the Allium, or Onion, family. With over 700 species in the family, you can bet there are more varieties than we could list here. There are two main categories for garlic; hardneck and softneck. Hardneck generally has larger cloves in each bulb and a tall stiff stem. It does not keep as long as softneck, but it can grow in colder climates. Softneck only has two varieties. It has smaller bulbs, with many cloves in each. Softneck cures and keeps really well; this category is what we normally find at the grocery store.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
Russian Red can survive in soggy winter soils much better than other varieties. It has distinctive purple skins and a strong flavour. Russian Red is considerably hot if eaten raw.
German Red has fawn coloured skins that are easy to peel. It has a strong, full-bodied flavour when raw and is excellent when roasted.
German White has, as its namesake suggest, white skins. It’s an ideal variety for roasting and has a bold, moderately spicy flavour when raw.
Mexican Purple is wrapped in purple-tinged skins and contains hot, spicy cloves that go perfectly with Mexican and South American recipes. The flavour gets a bit milder when roasted.
Spanish Roja Garlic is a favourite for its distinct, robust flavour which connoisseurs call “true garlic”. A very popular hardneck variety.
Duganski Garlic is as delightful to look at as it is to eat! It has purple stripes on white skins, with purple tinges on the bare cloves as well. Duganski hits the palate with a burst of heat, then mellows out to a pleasant, savoury aftertaste.
Montana Giant Garlic is another purple striped variety with great heat that mellows on the tongue. The flavour is a bit earthier than other varieties.
Silverskin is the most common variety in grocery stores because it keeps the longest, lasting up to a year. It has many small cloves in silver skins and a mild flavour. It does well in nearly any climate.
Surprisingly, Elephant garlic is not in the onion family at all; it’s actually a member of the leek family. It has flat leaves and very large cloves. Its flavour is much milder, and it can be used raw in salads.
When To Plant Garlic
Garlic is a cool-season crop and should be planted in the fall, between September and October for easy winter gardening. There is a short period in early spring when it can be planted, but the window of time is much smaller. It’s easiest to plant in the fall. Garlic does not do very well planted in pots due to the possibility of freezing, and the amount of space needed for each bulb to develop.
How to Plant Garlic
If you’ve got compost, mix that in because it likes rich, well-drained soil. Make a trench, 10-15 cm deep, and plant each clove, pointy end up, about 10 cm apart. Planting larger cloves will get you larger bulbs at harvest. Cover them over but don’t compact the soil too hard.
How Deep To Plant Garlic
It should be under about 2-5 cm of soil, or slightly shallower if you’re going to cover it with mulch or straw.
How to Grow Garlic
Don’t worry about watering it. Even in a drought, garlic should be watered sparingly. You can fertilize garlic in the spring when foliage starts to appear. Cutting off the flower stalks will help redirect energy to the bulbs.
When & How to Harvest Garlic
Harvest your garlic when most of the leaves have started to die back, but before they have all turned brown. There should still be a bit of green on some of the leaves. This will likely be in mid- to late summer.
You want to be gentle when harvesting to preserve the skins for protection. Gently loosen the soil around the bulb and pull out the bulbs, retaining as much of the leaves as possible. Work gently to avoid damaging the bulbs.
How to Cure Garlic
After harvesting, lay your bulbs out in a single layer. Somewhere warm and dry with good airflow is best, preferably out of the sun. It’s a good idea to turn them every few days so they dry evenly. This could take up to several weeks, depending on the moisture content of the bulbs.
How to Store Garlic
Once the bulbs are cured well, and no green is left showing on any stems, you can get them ready for storage. Gently brush off any remaining soil, and trim up the roots with scissors. With hardneck varieties, trim off the stems 5-8 cm above the bulb. With softneck varieties, you can leave the stems on and braid them together for hanging storage. Hardneck garlic is best stored in netting or mesh bags.
How to Save Garlic for Seed
Select the plumpest, healthiest looking bulbs to save for seed in the fall. Remember, the bigger the clove, the bigger the bulb.
So, are you ready to try planting some garlic this fall? Stop by our garden centre, and we’ll get you set up with one of the easiest, most rewarding crops there is. Just think of all the flavourful cooking you can do next winter with your own homegrown garlic!