Thursday, October 14, 2010

It’s easy to grow your own garlic

One of the things that irk me to no end is that virtually all fresh garlic available at the grocery store is imported from China. I’m not opposed to importing foods like oranges and bananas, foods that can’t be grown in our climate. But garlic? Anyone with a patch of garden the size of a phone book can plant garlic. It thrives in our climate and is one of my pet examples of how we have become dependant on imported versions of produce that can so easily be grown locally.

Don’t feel that you have to buy imported garlic this time of year. Visit Acorn or Buy Local NB to search for local growers. Another option is Hope Seeds (based in NB but soon moving to NS). They usually offer seed stock for growing but this year are selling what they call “table” stock (for cooking). If you’re into garlic you’ll love this because they offer several varieties of garlic in a sampler.

If you’d like to try growing your own garlic, mid-October is the time to plant. Halifax Seed offers garlic seed stock from Ontario and Nova Scotia and provides a handy sheet with tips for growing and harvesting. The seed stock bulbs look like regular old garlic to me. You can also try planting grocery store garlic or garlic from a local producer (already naturalized to our climate). Choose the largest cloves for planting.

Growing garlic is as easy as planting tulips. To get started at home here are a few tips:

Choose a sunny, well-drained area. (I have friends who plant garlic in among their perennial flowers.) Plant the individual cloves two inches deep and about six inches apart, pointed end up. Cover with a layer of mulch or leaves once the ground freezes.

In early summer watch for coiled flower stalks (resemble silly straws) called scapes that must be snapped off. This directs energy into developing the bulb rather than a flower. The scapes make great pesto and can be added to any dish that calls for garlic. Weed your garlic patch well since garlic doesn’t like competition.

Sometime in early August you’ll notice the leaves turning brown from the bottom up. When the bottom three or four leaves are dead and the top five or six are still green you can lift the bulbs. If you're not sure, dig a bulb and check. According to one grower, a mature bulb is fully swelled, well sized and has some partially decomposed wrappers. Pull the bulbs out gently and tie in bunches to hang for a couple of weeks in a well ventilated area out of direct sun. After they’re well dried, trim the stalks and roots and brush off any loose soil (or you can braid them).

One of the keys to growing garlic that stores well through the winter is to stop watering it 2-3 weeks before harvest and to choose a dry day to pull the bulbs. Store it at room temperature.

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