Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
I recently became an official card-carrying member of Seeds of Diversity, a move that was a long time coming. Okay, to be honest there is no actual membership card but there really should be — I am a proud nerd who loves the idea of a special membership card to a club of similarly-minded nerds. A button or t-shirt would be nice too. A patch would be great. I might consider wearing a special pair of gardening gloves if they were available. A hat would be pushing it.
Last Friday I received my first official membership email. Inside was an invite to take part in a national garlic-growing project called the Great Canadian Garlic Collection. Here’s how it works: members choose 3 varieties of garlic to grow (one variety called ‘Music’ is the control and everyone must grow that variety). Members grow these varieties for two years documenting their progress by filling out forms and making careful observations. Eventually the data will be collected providing Canadians with information about which varieties grow best under varying conditions so that gardeners can choose the best varieties for their area. The best part — the garlic is FREE!
Free garlic just when I was starting to consider my garlic options for the year AND I get to fill out pseudo-scientific forms AND be a part of a special very important project in a very important special peoples’ club…. I was so all over the idea that I was literally racing to choose my varieties and get the request off via email within minutes of receiving the invite. My heart was racing a mile a minute as I yelled across the room at Davin, “Would you prefer a variety that roasts well or has nice pink stripes? Which should I choose, ‘Persian Star’ or ‘Inchelium Red’? What should I choose? Help!” What if I was too late to take part? What if they ran out of garlic before receiving my request? What if my email was in a long queue behind thousands of other eager participants? What if they don’t want an urban gardener? All week long I’ve been telling friends and anyone who will listen about the project. An email confirming my participation came as a sigh of relief. And then yesterday my garlic arrived in the mail!
‘Music’ is the control. Everyone has to grow it. I chose ‘Siberian’ because it is supposed to be a hardy purple variety and ‘Persian Star’ because it is good for roasting and so darn pretty with dark reddish/purple stripes and pointy cloves.
And now comes the hard part… something this official requires that I keep track of the varieties, documenting which varieties I grow and where. Some people are hyper garden planners, I am not. I make open-ended decisions about the plants I will grow, the methods I will explore, the changes I will make to each space, and then I throw it all out the window at the last minute and mostly wing it. Some things are set in stone ahead of time but I try to keep those to a minimum so I can be open to something better that comes along last-minute. I hate being locked down into anything and prefer to go with the flow when the season starts. Keeping track of three different garlic varieties that need to be planted NOW means that I’ve got to make some sort of plan for spring. In the past I have planted my garlic crop in the Fall, working with and around that haphazard planting come spring. I often keep my garlic to the perimeter of my community garden plot to make things easier. I do pretty much the same thing with the onions and always have the option of pulling anything out that gets in the way. This has never been an issue because I’m never growing either plant for a project like this and I’ve always got more in the ground than is necessary anyways.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me in the next few days. Some of it is fun and some of it is forcing me to push against my nature in a way that I don’t particularly like. I’d been toying with the idea of separating my plot into more obvious sections next year so I know it will be something along those lines. But I haven’t made definite plans about staking (I try new methods every year) or exactly how to divide those sections beyond working with the perennials that are already in place. Your suggestions are appreciated.
I just returned from my community garden plot where I harvested a ton of onions, garlic, and borage. They were all overflowing in the plot and some needed to be sacrificed for the good of the garden and future harvests. The garlic had already formed a few cloves each. I left plenty more that will stay put until the fall when they are fully formed. I’m figuring on some sort of soup for the borage. Something that would benefit from a cucumbery flavor. The flowers are good in fizzy beverages. The onions will become tonight’s meal, French Onion Soup.
I also harvested my first cucumber (‘Parisian Pickling’), radish flowers, swiss chard and lots of herbs including basil (2 kinds), ‘Golden’ oregano, variegated marjoram, and garlic chives.
The valerian plants were COVERED in lady bug larvae! So exciting! Sorry no photos. I took my film camera with me.
Not a day has gone by over the last month where our meals haven’t been prepared with some percentage of harvest from the gardens. As the summer heats up that percentage is growing. Filling the fridge (and our bellies) with my own harvest is very satisfying. It just never grows old. And neither does bragging and gloating about it.
Despite the cold — and the fact that we experienced a brief and light snowfall this afternoon — outdoor gardening is still happening here in Toronto. I am yet to put any of my gardens to bed. The side garden is fine really. Doing a last clean-up is pretty much my choice. I choose to be lazy until such time when and if I am struck with the spirit of Martha.
Hardneck garlic before planting. I bought these cloves at the Organic Farmer’s Market… specifically from The Dufferin Grove Market and the Plan B Farm. They were still selling cloves today if you’re looking in Toronto.
The rooftop container garden is another thing entirely. I have really got to get on that action. Dead annuals need to be composted, soil collected, pots scrubbed clean and brought indoors, and everything put away — it’s a crucifixion! Things are starting to freeze up there. I should be out there right now, not inside in the warmth, heating my body by the warm monitor glow. I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Planting Thyme in the cold, wet dirt. Sure is fun!
Thankfully I have been slowly working on the community garden since the first signs of fall back in September. I planted hardneck garlic last week, and Egyptian clumping onions at least a month prior. I pulled up or cut back most of the dead calendula and borage, pulled up a zucchini plant, harvested everything that wasn’t going to see another day, and laid straw down. Rather than overwintering potted perennial herbs as I often do, I elected to plant the marjoram and various thyme varieties in a section of the new community plot. All of the still-green tomatoes were picked and are sat on top of the warm fridge ripening. I’ve got a single precious ‘Black Pear’ tomato left that I am saving until the absolute perfect moment to enjoy on a fried egg sandwich with pesto.
As things get colder I am finding myself longing for the days of summer when I was out in the garden sweating in a t-shirt. Sweat and heat exhaustion sound good right now. I was at the community garden on Saturday wearing several layers to protect against both the cold and the rain. When I got home my hands were frozen and went through that terrible dethawing process that is a mix of both itchiness and pain. I love gardening and even those those wet days can be some of the best for things like planting perennials even I can’t sell it. Digging in cold wet dirt just sucks!
Guest post by Emira Mears
The only remaining bulbs I had on my list to plant for the Fall was my garlic. Planting out the garlic required a bit more preparation as I had to clean up some space in my veggie beds getting rid of finished beans, cukes and some arugula that had bolted and I swear was making a run for the basement door, before I would have room to put the garlic in.
This will be my first time growing garlic and so far I’ve already learned a lot. For starters, I ordered way too much (so if you’re in Canada and would like some lovely garlic to plant let me know via ourdomicile at gmail dot com and perhaps we can work something out in the way of a trade) getting a bit confused by the whole bulb vs. clove business when I placed my bulb orders. You see, it was obvious to me when they arrived, but for some reason not so obvious when I placed the order that five bulbs of garlic meant five bulbs full of a bunch of wee cloves that then get broken up and planted individually. But I was thinking more along the lines of 5 bulbs = 5 bulbs to plant like with my tulip order and so foolishly ordered 10 thinking that was quite conservative. I now have planted about 40 cloves of garlic and have some extras for those who are interested.
Anyway. I woke up to another sunny day yesterday and decided I would use the opportunity to get my garlic in the ground. I did a bit of web searching and discovered that there are all kinds of opinions about what one has to do to grow good garlic. Many of the web sites I read stressed the difference between “growing garlic” (which is apparently easy) and “growing good garlic” which is apparently trickier. I followed the advice of a few handy tips I read online and soaked the cloves in a mixture of baking soda (1 heaping tablespoon for one bowl containing the cloves of 5 bulbs) and water for a few hours to make it easier to slip off the skins and apparently to help kill any fungus that might be on the cloves. I also read suggestions to add liquid seaweed to this mixture to help feed the garlic but I didn’t have any around the house and I was feeling mighty impatient (and like this may be my last sunny Sunday of the season). I then prepped the soil, turning it over well and adding some compost. After that I undertook the very laborious task of peeling the skin off all those cloves which took a fair while, and then drained the baking soda liquid off to replace it with a quick soak in some 100 proof vodka. This was recommended as a further way to ensure any fungus on the garlic was killed, and given the wiff of garlic/vodka I got as I was planting these little nuggets I’d say that was successful.
I planted them at a 2″ depth about 4″ apart and was careful to mark all my spots so I don’t dig them up again next Spring. I’ve also read in numerous spots now that applying some mulch to the ground for the winter is a good idea to help keep them warm. I had been planning on mulching my veggie beds anyway to help keep weeds down and add nutrients so now I’ve got an extra incentive. If even half of my garlic comes up we’ll be doing pretty well, which is great as I use a lot of it in the kitchen and even more when I’m preserving in the Summer. I’ll let you know how it goes and if I suspect any of these tips were useful, but I’m afraid you’ll have to sit tight for a good six months or so to find out.