As much as I enjoy tulips and daffodils, my favourite bulb is garlic. If you have never grown garlic it is time to try. Garlic is healthy, easy and fun to grow and once you have tasted homegrown garlic, you will never go back to the imported junk you buy in the grocery stores.
October is the perfect time to plant garlic and even if you don’t have an actual plot to grow food, you can grow garlic in a deep container. I wouldn’t suggest planting grocery-store garlic in your garden for several reasons.
Canada imports almost of its grocery-store garlic from around the world. Garlic grown in China will not necessarily thrive in our West Coast conditions. Secondly, grocery-store garlic is usually sprayed with a sprout inhibitor which isn’t exactly beneficial to have on garlic you are trying to sprout and grow. Like most things, local garlic is the best, so look for garlic that is organic and grown close to home.
Plant your garlic now until the end of the month or when we are consistently bombarded with hard frosts. Garlic likes rich, organic soil and lots of sunlight, so take this in to consideration when planting. The other key to good garlic growing is drainage. Garlic prefers excellent drainage, so amend you clay soil if need be.
Separate each head into individual cloves and plant them, pointed side up, a few inches below the soil level. I usually space garlic about four inches; you can plant in rows or stagger them, it really doesn’t matter as long as you leave space for the emerging bulb.
Weeds are generally not a huge problem as garlic is a natural weed inhibitor, but you do want to keep your garlic patch well weeded and watered.
In early June the plants will form a scape (pig’s-curl-looking green sprout) or flowering top. Cut these back and enjoy them sautéed or chopped in salads. This encourages larger bulb growth under the ground, which is what you are trying to achieve.
The bulbs are ready when the tops are brown and falling over, usually in mid-July. If the weather co-operates, harvest and lay out the bulbs in the sun for a few days to cure and dry the outer skins. Hang them in a cool, dry place to store and save some to plant the following year.
There are a ton of cool garlic varieties. Basically they can be divided into two types, hard neck and soft neck. Soft necks have a stalk that ends above the actual cloves instead of being surrounded with them. They are preferred for braiding. Rocamboles, or hard necks, have a hard stock that is surrounded by large cloves. Happy planting.