The god­dess of the edi­ble gar­den

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Garlic - By Dave Han­son

Few in­gre­di­ents can be as ubiq­ui­tous, raunchy and in­tense, yet all the while del­i­cate, com­plex and heroic as gar­lic. The cloves of Al­lium sativum are in­deed a so­phis­ti­cated bit of phy­to­chem­istry, loaded with heaps of plea­sure in­duc­ing flavonoids that not only taste amaz­ing but also con­fer a wide ar­ray of health ben­e­fits (e.g. blood pres­sure re­duc­tion, choles­terol re­duc­tion). The pun­gent oils are also associated with every­thing from dis­cour­ag­ing vam­pires (which may or may not ac­tu­ally work...) to serv­ing as a ver­sa­tile gar­den-mate in com­pan­ion plant­ing strate­gies. Gar­lic is a herb to love and def­i­nitely one to grow.

Hard­neck vs soft­neck

In north­ern re­gions, the go-to gar­lic for home plant­ing is called “hard­neck”, a ref­er­ence to the sturdy struc­ture known as a scape that shoots up through the mid­dle of the plant each sum­mer, end­ing in a flower-like struc­ture full of baby bulbs (bul­bils). Hard­neck gar­lic is from the sub-species Al­lium sativum var. ophioscorodon and, it is worth not­ing, that chefs and gar­lic con­nois­seurs the world over con­sider hard­necks to be the most flavour­ful garlics on the planet. Hard­neck gar­lic thrives where winters are cold and can­not eas­ily be grown where there is too much warmth. We live in an ideal cli­mate to grow the best gar­lic in the world.

By con­trast, the last gro­cery store gar­lic bulb you pur­chased was likely a “soft­neck” gar­lic, which hails from warmer cli­mates and lacks par­tic­u­lar charm. Soft­neck gar­lic has good stor­age qual­i­ties, and tends to have easy peel, plump bulbs which have made soft­neck the mar­ket cham­pion in Canada since the 1990’s (ac­tu­ally mostly due to cheap pro­duc­tion out­side of Canada. Gar­lic farms in Canada dropped from 4,500 acres to less than 300 acres be­tween 2000 and 2002). But there is no com­par­ing the flavour of soft­neck to hard­neck garlics – and great gar­lic is mak­ing a spir­ited come back. To find the very best gar­lic look for the tri­fecta of hard­neck, or­ganic and heir­loom.

How to grow it

Gar­lic is grown from bulbs, com­monly re­ferred to as “seed gar­lic”, which is a lit­tle con­fus­ing since gar­lic al­most never pro­duces true seeds. Just as with pota­toes, there are many ben­e­fits to plant­ing gar­lic from pro­fes­sion­ally grown stock. Seed gar­lic grow­ers’ work hard to pro­duce qual­ity prop­a­ga­tion ma­te­rial and this is re­flected in the price when com­pared to ta­ble gar­lic, but the ben­e­fits of ideally sized, dis­ease-free and true-to-name bulbs are well worth the cost. Once a hard­neck crop is es­tab­lished, home gar­den­ers can also use home-har­vested bul­bils for re­plant­ing.

Although gar­lic will sprout if planted in spring, the only way to get a fully ma­ture bulb in our re­gion is by plant­ing it in fall. Tim­ing is ac­tu­ally very im­por­tant, since prairie weather has a bad habit of go­ing from gor­geous to ghastly in a hurry. The first task of a freshly planted gar­lic bulb is to set out a strong root sys­tem, and avoid shoot­ing above ground at all cost (fall shoots are a big vul­ner­a­bil­ity that gen­er­ally leads to win­ter kill). Start plant­ing around the first

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