Friday, July 6, 2012

A little garlic tutorial

I thought I posted something along these lines last year, but I can't find it so you may be getting this again. How can too much garlic talk be a bad thing?

I speak here about prairie hard neck garlic. I believe this stock I have came from the Morden Manitoba research station many years ago. Where ever it came from, it is superbly adapted to this area. This stock I have yields only a few cloves in a bulb so that makes for less peeling which I appreciate.


Garlic likes rich loam.  The addition of bone meal may help promote large bulb development.  Bone meal is gentle so it's not going to hurt your seed stock if you put some of it right into the hole when your clove is pushed into the dirt when planting.

I cull the largest and most uniform bulbs as I harvest and cure it so that I can use the very best of the crop for seed in the fall.

I till the soil very well so it's quite light before planting.  I plant as late as possible. Preferably I plant on the day before the ground freezes in the fall.

I break up the bulbs into the individual cloves and plant them with the pointed end up by simply pushing them deeply into the soft earth.  My soil is rich so I plant a double row, 18cm between the two rows and about 10cm between each clove in the row. I off set the rows so the plants are not directly ajacent in those double rows.

I've never lost any of my seed to the Manitoba winter freeze when my seed bed is light and fluffy.  In the spring it will emerge early, well before I can get into the garden shortly after the snow is off and be ready to harvest often by the middle of July and before.  As it grows, it will sprout flower heads (scape).  I cut these off as early as I can to force the plant to put more energy into making big bulbs. Using the scape for cooking can be good if you enjoy garlic.  Cutting the flowers off early is an important key to having larger bulbs.

If you want to increase your stock you can let these scape mature and plant the resulting bulblets in the fall. They will grow into small bulbs in their first year that can be planted again to yield full bulbs. It's a lengthy process, but you sure can bulk up your seed stock in a few short years by planting this way.

Harvest should be done in the heat of the summer so the bulbs can dry out well.  I haul mine out onto the driveway every sunny day until the tops are very dry and brittle.  Setting up blockades is critical. I lost a third of my harvest one year to a driver not looking where he was going. My bad! Once they are ready to put away, I cut the tops off and rub some of the outer skin off to make a clean head.  If you want your stock to adapt and get stronger don't eat all the best stuff! Save that for seed, as painful as that is to let go of.

Seed stock!


Curing is like scaring the garlic to death. When curing, I aim to frighten it into thinking it's going to dry up and blow away if it doesn't conserve every bit of moisture it can. As the skins are still moist from harvest it will shrink up tightly around the bulb and neck if I carefully dry it out in the hot summer days. It takes a while to do this and I've spent a couple of weeks in attendance to dragging the stock in and out of shelter to keep it dry and or get it back out into the sun. It varies from year to year just how long it takes. Everything on the outside should be brittle. Testing it is tough to nail down, but when I break a clove from a cured bulb, I expect it to be very sticky with sugars and the cloves very tightly bound by the bulb skin while the clove skins are on the thick side and brittle.

I leave the bulb skins intact until it's fully cured and only then do I determine how much of the skin I remove to make it look pretty and uniform. It's that bag of tight skin that works to retain moisture and discourage pests and disease. I trim up the roots with tough sizzors and chop off the necks and leaves with a heavy board and cleaver when I'm ready to pack it up in mesh bags and hang it in the kitchen. I usually leave a cm or two of neck.

Hard neck is not impossible to braid, but I'm not a braider. Soft neck garlic is very easy to make good looking braids with.

I hang mine where it's dry. The cool dark basement cellar type places seem to work against a good cure. Besides it's way easier to show it off by the wood stove in the kitchen right?

I went too far one year and cured up my garlic on the tables in the green house, but my green house was too hot and many of the bulbs were damaged. It didn't seem to be all that vulnerable afterward, but it didn't look right so be careful to have very good circulation.

I've had years when the growing season was wet and the summer stock never really did cure up well even with a careful curing effort.

Another benefit from a good hard curing is that mold and disease doesn't seem to take hold well. Last year I got a very good cure and as I'm havesting today, I still have good useable garlic from last year on hand. It's lost a lot of it's weight, but much of it is still quite formant and very edible. Onions require much the same treatment. Potatoes and carrots beneift from this type of thing too although that's not as lengthy a process.

Carrots made dormant and stacked in bins of peat are brilliant keepers.

Our cellar is nearly perfect for potatoes so we don't have to try very hard to preserve them which is really wonderful. There is enough work to do!

I harvested 22kg of beautiful garlic last year and friends and family were very flattering. This year the crop looks bulky and full. I'm looking forward to weighing the results this year too.