There is only one thing in the garden that rivals my love for tomatoes – garlic! I’ve always loved garlic, nearly any way you can slice it, fry it, bake it – I’m on it. It is delicious AND good for you. Bonus. When I have a cold coming on, my home remedy is a whole bulb of roasted garlic, sweet from the oven. Yum. (If nothing else, no one else will get close enough to me to catch my cold!)
I was absolutely floored when I realized that I could grow garlic at home. I have no idea why I thought it would be difficult or not possible. I didn’t realize until I started reading how little I actually knew about my beloved bulb. I didn’t even know what the plant would look like! Thankfully, garlic is one of the easiest things to grow in the garden.
First of all, don’t be tempted to plant the crap you can buy at the grocery store. You have no idea how long it’s been hanging around and it’s probably been treated with an inhibitor to stop it from sprouting. Once you discover the dizzying range of garlic varieties, you will never buy that tired looking stuff again. Home-grown garlic is nothing like what you’ve had before, unless you’ve been willing to shell out 10 bucks a pound for the real deal at the farmers market. Fresh garlic is juicy and plump and far more flavourful than the dried out pasty stuff most of us are used to.
The best quality seed garlic I’ve found to date comes from Westcoast Seeds, my favorite local seed supplier. Their garlic was absolutely beautiful; huge, plump heads with great colour and no blemishes.
Garlic is divided into two main categories: hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck is what we buy in the store and the stuff we see woven into braids in restaurants. Our family prefers hard neck – in June in sends up glorious elegantly unfurling scapes that are possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever eaten. The scape is what will become the shoot of the flower. You want to trim it off to make sure all the plant’s energy goes into the bulb – and they are *delicious*. Think mildly garlic flavoured green beans.
Garlic is ridiculously easy to grow. You want to plant usually around Canadian Thanksgiving which falls mid-October. Simply break down the bulbs into cloves, doing your best to keep their papery jackets on, and then pop them into the ground, just like bulbs.
I’ve seen instructions to grow them at least 6 inches apart – but having done some snooping down back lanes peering over the fences of my Italian neighbours, I have seen it happily growing completely rammed together. So that’s what I did this year. The more the merrier.
If you live someplace that gets really cold in the winter, tuck in a nice warm blanket of mulch and that’s it, you’re done. Make sure they don’t get too soggy and give them a water with the rest of the garden and with pretty much zero effort you’ll have a spectacular harvest come summer.
Come June your garden will be graced by the arcing scapes which you should trim off while they’re still curly. They are lovely eaten almost any which way. We had a delicious surprise this summer at Spinnaker’s Restaurant in Victoria – pickled scapes on an antipasto plater. YUM.
About a month or so later your garlic will be ready to harvest. Rule of thumb is that when about half of the leaves have turned brown they’re probably ready to come out. Don’t just yank ’em out, though. Dig down around the bulb with your fingers and ease them out carefully so they don’t snap from the scape.
The garlic takes a bit of attention before you can eat it – but you don’t have to worry about that until July. For now, find some seed garlic, pop it in the ground forget about it until spring.