Garlic, delicious garlic. It is amazing to think that only a few years ago I didn’t even know what garlic was, except something that you used to keep the vampires away. My first memory of good, fresh, potent garlic was when I was about 19 years old and we lived within walking distance to a farmer’s market. They had these beautiful huge purple heads of garlic and they smelled amazing. The taste was like nothing I’d ever had before. I was hooked.
And I’m a bit embarrassed to say this but I didn’t know you could grow garlic in Calgary until about 6 years ago. Silly me.
The great thing about garlic is you really don’t need a lot of room to grow it – you can literally just stick it in wherever you have little blank spot. It needs full sun and well drained soil, but I have grown it in a part-sun location before (the bulbs were not as big as in previous years, but it works if you literally have no other option). Plant it in the late autumn, water it and leave it. Little green spikes will start to appear in the early spring and you pretty much don’t need to do anything to it until the scapes appear late June/early July. The scapes are the shoot that a flower will eventually appear on and go to seed, but I always cut my scapes off in order for the plant to focus its energy on producing bigger bulbs. The scapes are edible and have a milder garlic taste – I make mine into pesto or pickle them.
The bulbs will be ready near the end of the summer in Calgary. You’ll be tempted to pull them out all summer just to see how they look but you must resist! You’ll know the bulbs are ready to come out when a few of the leaves start to turn yellow and dry out.
Be very gentle when harvesting the garlic. The more aggressive you are, the more likely you will damage your garlic or peel off the skins. The idea is to loosen the soil around the plants with a pitch fork or a shovel and then gentle pull them out one-by-one with your hand. Lightly brush the soil off of the roots and bulbs, being careful not to pull off the skins. Do not clean the bulbs with water.
Next you’ll want to cure your garlic in a dark and dry location (if you want to eat a bulb right away, go ahead! Curing it just makes it keep longer). I use my basement and then keep them stored there until I am ready to use them. I have a very expensive and highly technical set up that consists of two screws in the ceiling with a piece of string tied between them and clothespins as the garlic attaching devices. Make sure to keep the drying garlic high in an area that is not accessible to pets because some pets (mainly a white cat called Bear) enjoy eating garlic leaves, breaking out in hives, and getting dragged to the vet. Your garlic will be completely dry in about 4-8 weeks and you can give them a brushing off to get rid of any remaining dirt and remove and discard the dried leaves.
This year’s garlic was Red Russian, which is a hardneck variety, ordered from West Coast Seeds. I’ve grown a few different types before but Red Russian seems to give me the biggest and healthiest bulbs, so it is my go-to variety. This reminds me, I need to go order my bulbs for planting this fall!