|Entrance to Beaver Pond Estates
It is our pleasure to make available this article
on growing garlic by the late Paul Pospisil, publisher and editor of The
Garlic News. Paul and his wife, Mary Lou, conducted
organic garlic growing trials in Ontario from 1990 until his passing in 2019. The content of
this article is based on the first five years of growing trials. The
original pamphlet has been revised and updated based on added information
from the small-plot garlic variety trials that he was conducting
since then, and in response to grower comments. Paul stresses that his
trials are based on his experience in his climatic zone and caution
is needed in translating his advice to other climatic zones. Beaver
Pond Estates is in zone 5a in North-Eastern Ontario. He says that this
region, although not subject to extreme cold Canadian winters, is nonetheless
a harsh climate. Situated at the juncture of two main weather patterns,
winters frequently change from freezing cold to a mid-winter thaw, sometimes
to the extent of triggering growth of dormant plants. A quick return
to sub-zero temperatures results in winterkill of the new growth.
Garlic is a fascinating plant, with its hundreds of strains and varieties,
its unique growing cycle, the folklore surrounding it and its real and
mystical powers. It has been cultivated in every civilization for thousands
of years for both its health-giving properties and tasty flavour.
|Paul teaches about garlic at
County Garlic Festival
Any gardener can grow great garlic. The cultural approach is different
from other vegetables, but it's not difficult to grow.
If you wish to grow garlic, plan on growing organically from the start.
It makes little sense to grow a health-giving plant and then contaminate
it with toxic, synthetic chemicals. Garlic thrives in nutrient-rich
organic soil. It is a fragile bulb, requiring careful handling. It lends
itself well to organic methods.
In our northern climate, garlic is planted in October, sets roots before
freeze-up, rests over the winter, resumes growth the following April
and is harvested in July or August. Spring planting does not produce
Pick a location with good soil, drainage, full sun and proximity to
water for irrigation. The plot should provide for space rotation, as
garlic should not return to the same bed where any allium grew in the
last three years.
Rich soil, high in organic matter and full of microorganisms is the
key to organic garlic production. Start with loam, if possible. Sandy
soil dries out easily and should be avoided. Clay soils can be built
up over a number of years with large amounts of compost. In building
up the soil, use liberal amounts of organic matter (compost or composted
animal manure) and grow green manures and legume crops for plough-down.
Wood ash can be sprinkled to provide potassium. Take a soil test to
maintain soil balance. A soil pH within the range 6.0-7.5 is acceptable.
|Paul rototills down a green
Garlic may be grown in flat rows or in raised beds. Raised beds have
the advantages of deeper soil for the roots, earlier thawing in the
spring and good drainage. Either till the soil just before planting
or plant through an earlier-planted cover crop. Annual cover crops like
annual rye grass don’t need to be tilled under, as they will form
mulch when they freeze. Make trenches in rows at least 12 inches apart
and 4-5 inches deep in which to set the cloves.
Selection of Planting Stock
You have a large choice of what type of garlic to grow, anywhere from
the tall, majestic Porcelains which grow up to 6 feet tall and produce
huge bulbs of only four cloves, through to the short, softneck Artichokes,
often called 'Italian' garlic, which grow from 12-15 cloves per bulb.
Most home gardeners start with a Rocambole strain of 7-8 cloves per
bulb. Whatever your choice, get it from a local grower. Avoid trying
to grow garlic found on grocery shelves. It’s likely imported
and not suitable for our climate.
Cracking into Cloves
Take the bulbs and carefully divide them into their separate cloves.
Garlic is propagated vegetatively, and it is the clove that is planted
as 'seed'. Set aside any damaged cloves as even a little nick can foster
green mould disease.
Hand planting is preferable. Place the clove vertically in the trench,
basal end down (pointy end up) and press it gently into the soil. Mechanical
planting devices generally drop the cloves in random fashion, resulting
in crooked stems. Cover the garlic by filling the trench, ensuring at
least 4 inches of soil cover.
Garlic should be mulched to insulate it against mid-winter thaws and
resulting winterkill. Wait until the ground is frozen, usually November,
and then mulch with 4-6 inches of clean straw. The same mulch can be
kept on the following summer to help keep down weeds and preserve moisture.
Even before the frost is out of the ground, the garlic spears will
be seen poking up through the mulch. Carefully move the mulch away from
the row to enable faster thawing and rapid growth.
Inspection, Weeding and Watering
Inspect the garlic by walking the rows twice weekly. Hand -pull any
weeds that emerge through the mulch. Look for any yellowed or diseased
garlic and remove it right away to prevent spread. Garlic needs a steady
supply of moisture so irrigate to supplement rainfall, giving it a total
of one inch per week.
If you started with a rich organic soil, no added feeding is needed.
Otherwise, add nitrogen very early in the growing season by means of
a watering with manure tea or a kelp or fish foliar spray.
Garlic lends itself readily to organic methods. It is bothered by few
insect pests* and, if carefully handled and grown in healthy soil, is
relatively unaffected by disease. Beautiful, tasty, top quality bulbs
are the result when garlic is handcrafted organically. The harvest is
the tasty reward for your hard work of growing garlic. Harvesting must
be carried out carefully, by hand, in order to get top-quality bulbs
that will store well over the winter.
* The arrival of the leek moth in Ontario and Quebec has posed the first
serious insect threat to garlic. This hardy plant is no longer free
from insect damage!