Google garlic and you will find a claims of many health benefits people gain by eating it. Read further and discover that each variety of garlic has its own taste. The garlic that can be purchased at the grocery store is a softneck garlic which means that the stem is easily removed from the bulb.
Hardneck garlic is more likely to be found at the farmers markets. It tends to be hardier and can withstand the Alberta climate with a little bit of protection.
A first time garlic grower? Start with hardneck variety. According to Rene Michalak of ReThink Red Deer the best varieties to grow locally are classified as hardneck but he has also had success with a couple of softneck varieties, Red Toch and a Japanese variety.
Garlic bulbs can be purchased at garden centers, from local growers or online. When purchasing at a market or online, ask where the bulb was grown. If the climate is similar to the local one, chances are that the garlic will thrive.
Garlic will also be available at the Garlic Street Market a garlic festival put on by ReThink Red Deer. The market will start at 11am, September 30th at the Piper Creek Community Garden (1709 40 Ave) Red Deer.
When purchasing garlic, look for large bulbs that are firm to the touch. Soft or damaged bulbs are not likely to survive the winter. To have a successful crop choose a planting area that is in full sun. The soil must be light with good drainage. Like all bulbs, garlic will rot if it is wet for a long period of time.
In this climate, garlic does best when planted in the fall, usually in October. Start by working the soil until it is soft to a depth of about 8 inches (20 cm). Incorporating organic material at the same time will improve the soil structure as well as provide nutrients to the bulbs. Adding bone meal into the soil is also important as it will aid with root formation
Before planting break the bulbs apart into individual cloves taking care not to remove their individual paper like coverings as they are the cloves protective layer.
Holes can be dug into the soil or if the soil is soft, cloves can be sunk into the soil pointy side up. The top of the clove should be approximately 2 inches (5 cm) from the soil surface.
Place cloves 6-8 inches (15-20cm) apart. Once planted, press the soil down firmly and cover with 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) of organic mulch. The mulch will keep the soil temperature constant regardless of the weather.
In the spring when he snow begins to melt, check under the mulch to see if the tips of garlic are starting to come through the soil. In an average year, the mulch can be removed at the end of April the beginning of May.
Water when the soil becomes dry and weed regularly.
Garlic skypes, flower head and stem, appear in June and July. These should be cut and can be used in salads, stir fries or any recipe that calls for garlic.
In August, once the bottom leaves on the garlic have died, dig a bulb or two and check to see if the cloves are plump. well-formed therefore ready to dig.
Pulling on the tops can damage the bulbs so it is best to dig underneath the bulbs with a fork and loosening the soil.
Once dug, place the garlic bulbs in a warm area out of direct sunlight where they can dry. The length of time it takes the tops to turn brown varies depending on the weather.
Once hardneck garlic is dry cut the tops back to 3 inches and remove the roots. They can then be placed in a mesh bag or tied together in small groups. Store in a cool dry area and use often.
Garlic is not hard to grow and should be part of everyone’s garden.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org