Many people take it at the first sign of a cold or flu. Me? I like it because of its taste (and because it wards off vampires!)
This time of year, when the weather is seesawing between late fall and early winter temperatures (and the sometimes crazy weather that falls in between – like sunny and beautifully warm one day; full-on snowstorm the next!), is the ideal time to plant garlic. Some people plant it as early as Thanksgiving (in Canada); others not until late October or early November. Certain varieties will benefit from earlier planting, but the usual advice is any time before the ground freezes…
I prefer to plant garlic earlier in the season for two reasons:
1. Planting now gives your garlic a chance to develop some roots (but not too early, like in late summer, when they would start poking their heads above the soil and potentially damage them over winter).
2. The weather is still nice enough to garden in and hey, any time I can do that without wearing a snowsuit is awesome!
Like most things you can grow or make yourself, homegrown garlic is far superior in taste and freshness compared to anything you buy at a grocery store. You can also get your hands on a whole world of different garlic varieties when you purchase from a reputable, preferably organic and local seller.
What kind of varieties will you grow?
I bought a few varieties from a great farm outside Victoria Harbour, Ontario (Fat Rooster Farm), and this year I’m primarily planting a garlic variety called Chesnok Red. It’s my first time planting this type, but it’s supposed to be distinctively sweet and tasty, stores great, and regularly wins awards. I have a few heads of the Dan’s Russian and Leningrad varieties as well.
At the grocery store you’re usually limited to white garlic from China and maybe a basic elephant variety if you’re lucky. Using grocery store garlic for this would probably still work, but bear in mind that the quality and size of your garlic harvest would likely be affected. But it’s also probably not organic and it’s pretty “one note” in terms of flavour for me.
How does garlic grow?
Something that is interesting about garlic is that it is, like onions and potatoes, not usually grown from seed. Garlic bulbs or heads grow from other garlic cloves.
Is bigger, better?
Most of the time you want to look for what some farmers call “seed garlic”, which are usually heads that have bigger cloves than average. When it comes to planting garlic, the bigger the cloves, the better—they’re generally heartier, more productive, and more likely to survive and thrive after a long winter underground.
So, how exactly do you plant garlic?
Well, you can do this in a small or large yard. I prefer the backyard but you could easily plant them in the front garden if that’s what you have. Planting garlic is simple with these steps.
1. First, you need to separate the cloves from their bulbs. Be delicate in doing this to ensure the cloves remain intact.
Though it’s tempting to peel them off, it’s important to keep the papery husks around each clove on. Think of these like coats that help protect the cloves from excess moisture (rot prevention), pests and other elements that could affect its growth.
2. Choose the plumpest, firmest cloves of the bunch and either throw away any soft or spongy cloves or use them soon in your cooking.
If you accidentally injure some of the cloves trying to separate them and you either bruise them, or tear off part of the husks, it’s a good idea to set these aside to use in your cooking now. And you might do this on purpose if you can’t wait until next year to enjoy garlic’s robust flavour!
3. Next, dig a trench between 3-4 inches deep that you will plant your garlic in.
Plant each clove with the pointy tip up and the somewhat flat edge on the soil. Other gardeners might say plant it sideways or upside down but I think this ensures the best use of the clove’s energy: roots will grow from the flat edge and garlic scapes will grow up from the pointy tip.
If you’re not sure which end is which, just look at an old clove (maybe in your kitchen cupboard 🙂 and see which end the green growth is growing from. That’s the side you want to have pointing up.
4. Plant each clove 6 to 8” apart.
If you have more space, leave more space. Allowing for more space will make it possible for your garlic bulbs to grow large and eliminate any chance of the bulbs being too tightly planted to fully mature or prevent sufficient air circulation around them (think rotting and other nasty situations). Packing them too tightly also means your bulbs will probably be smaller than expected.
5. Cover each clove with about three inches of dirt.
NB: A quick rule of thumb when planting anything (seeds in particular) is to plant about three times the size of the thing being planted. So, bean seeds are larger and will be planted much more deeply than carrot or lettuce seeds.
6. Cover each one and pat down the soil slightly just to ensure the clove is in contact with the soil.
In a couple weeks, I will probably cover these with mulch to protect them from too much moisture, make sure there is enough moisture in the soil over winter, and protect from any frost heaving that might happen between now and next spring.
And the most important question of all: when do you get to eat it?
Well, garlic is planted in the fall only to be harvested in… July or August of the following year. It’s a late bloomer! But when you grow your own, you also get to delight in the garlic scapes that grow from the bulbs in early summer. So even though you may have to wait a bit to harvest it, it’s kind of like getting a 2 for 1 deal!
Have you ever planted garlic before? Don’t you love how easy and delicious homegrown garlic is?
If you haven’t, I hope you’ll try it!
Life is a plate… Eat up!