Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through Growing Your Own Food in Canada. Are you a fan of garlic? It's an essential kitchen ingredient! Redawna tells you everything you need to know to grow garlic in Canada.
Garlic is used in cooking around the world and is so revered there are festivals dedicated to these pungent bulbs. From sweet and savoury dishes to pickles and sauces, it adds amazing flavour that everyone loves. With a bit of planning you can have a bounty of garlic from your own garden.
What's the Difference Between Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic?
We'll discuss two main types of garlic. The first is hardneck garlic. It's the hardier of the two types and does well in cooler climates. It develops a long flowering stem in the centre of the cloves — these are better known as a scape.
Scapes should be harvested in the early summer so the energy of the plant is sent to the growing bulb. There are many delicious way to enjoy the scapes, so be sure to harvest them to use in the kitchen.
Hardneck varieties grow a single row of cloves and the cloves are often larger. They're said to be more flavourful then the softneck garlic, though they do have a shorter storage life at around five to six months. Hardneck garlic is most commonly related to wild garlic.
Softneck garlic is better for growing in warmer climates as it's not as hardy as hardneck garlic. Softneck garlic heads have many cloves that don't grow in a single row but in several layers. Another difference is that softneck doesn't grow the flower stalk (scape). The storage life for softneck garlic is much longer at 9–12 months. This is the most common garlic you see in grocery stores and is the garlic you may find braided.
When Should You Plant Garlic?
Garlic requires a cold period to break dormancy. The best time to plant garlic is in the fall about 4–6 weeks before your first frost. You can find your expected frost dates in an earlier article about your frost dates. It's very important to give garlic that extra time before the first frost to get their roots established, but keep in mind you don't want to plant too early. You want to avoid too much top growth so the plants won't be damaged by freezing winter temperatures. This vastly improves winter survival rates.
What's the Best Location For Planting Garlic?
When choosing a spot for your garlic select a nice sunny location, preferably one that stays relatively dry and has good drainage as garlic doesn't like overly wet soggy soil. Work the soil well, adding amendments like peat moss and compost. Be sure to weed the area well so the plants aren't competiting with weeds for water and nutrients.
How Do You Select?
You should buy your garlic for planting from a green house, garden center or seed company. The garlic you purchase in the grocery store has often been treated for long-time storage and isn't ideal for growing.
Select large firm full heads for planting. Break apart the head into individual cloves but do leave the paper skin on them. Use the largest of the cloves, saving the smaller one to use for cooking.
How Do You Plant Garlic?
Plant the cloves pointed end up and give lots of extra room between them; five inches is sufficient. Plant the cloves at a depth of two to three inches, and if planting in rows be sure to space the rows 12 inches apart. Water well. In the colder parts of the country it's a good idea to place a layer of mulch 2–3 inches thick over the garlic-growing section of the garden. This gives it an extra layer of protection from the extreme cold winter temperatures. There's no need to fertilize as it will feed off the compost you worked into the planting site.
How Do You Harvest and Store Garlic?
You'll know it's time to harvest the garlic once the plants are 50 percent yellow from the base upwards (this can be any time between May - August depending on your variety). Stop watering about a week before you plan on harvesting the bulbs. Use a shovel or pitchfork to loosen the soil around the plants. Pull the heads, leaving the stems intact, and gently remove any excess soil you see.
The next step in the harvest is curing the garlic. It's good is to hang them in a cool dry well-ventilated space for a few weeks, though spreading them out on a table or screen works just as well (be sure to leave space between the bulbs for good air flow). After two weeks check on the garlic. You know it's cured when there's no longer any green left in the stems.
Once cured, trim off the roots and stems or if so inclined you can braid the bulbs from softneck varieties for long term storage. Although it's not necessary it does look nice. Store the finished garlic in a cool dry location in mesh bags, paper bags or even open containers.
Save the biggest best heads for replanting in the garden in the fall.
- Grow Your Own Food: A Guide To Garden Irrigation
- Grow Your Own Food: How to Grow Melons in Canada
- Grow Your Own Food: Summer Gardening Chores
Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.