I have expressed it before – garlic is our most important and possibly most valuable garden plant. The reason for this are the health benefits and the flavour it provides to meals and the ability to sell our excess at decent good return.
Over the years of garlic production we have become proficient at growing it, using it and in making garlic powder. We have had almost complete harvest failures some years as well as amazing production in others.
We even have our own DIY Dehydrator which works amazing well and we have used it for several years.
The Taste Test
This year we planted four different cultivars – Tibetan, Siberian, Marino, and Russian Red. The first three were adapted to our area (prairie adapted) and the Russian garlic was obtained from a different province that is normally much warmer than ours. Guess what the growing results were.
The three prairie adapted cultivars were fabulous producers. Not super large bulbs but consistent in the number of cloves and in size and colour. Most of the Russian garlic ended up wormy and rotting. This then, was the first type we made into powder since they would not last much longer.
We kept a few cloves of the Russian cultivar and did a raw garlic taste test to determine hotness and other flavour qualities.
To evaluate flavour we had to use something to act as what I call a hotness “disperser” – bread and butter – to prevent the garlic from burning the mouth and throat too much. Toast could also be used here.
I repeated the taste test twice, trying one cultivar (one whole clove) per day, twice. I used the same kind of bread and butter and ate the whole clove on one side of the bread so that I had the rest of the bread to absorb the hotness if needed.
We had interesting results.
The cultivars we naturally thought would be hotter were the Tibetan and Siberian, and naturally the Marino should be less hot, simply based on the names. The Russian garlic turned out to have a decent amount of hotness and residual burning after finishing, likely due to its larger size and higher moisture content (I really have no idea, I’m just guessing here)
The hottest and best tasting garlic for me was THE MARINO! I had read somewhere on the internet that if you can grow only one garlic, grow Marino. Maybe this had influenced my taste buds and therefore my decision? I really have no idea.
The Marino was hottest on the first bite and had lingering hotness throughout the tasting. The Siberian and Tibetan both were not super hot at first taste, then got a bit hotter and then decreased in temp right after that. By the end of all the taste tests, no cultivar had residual burning that I have experienced with the Russian garlic in other years.
I am going to attribute the garlic hotness or lack of it to growing conditions. We had a very dry year, but all the garlic seemed less hot to me. I guess it could also be me used to eating raw garlic?
So the hotness was the main concern in this taste test. If there are other ways to test garlic flavour I do not know them. So for now, the differences in hotness is what we have determined about the garlic we grow, and can relate that information to customers.
If you can stand it, try a garlic taste test yourself. I would like to compare to grocery store garlic sometime!
Ever since I was small, I loved nature. I don’t know why particularly, I just did. Growing up, I loved spending time in the country, around plants and animals and anything from the natural world. I took biology and ended up taking Agriculture in university.
Looking at career options, I was not pleased. A good paying job was most likely to be found in a region that I was not willing to live in (for several reasons), so I got sidetracked into a job that kept me in this location, but not really contributing to anything on the nature side of things. I had access to nature, but not a viable way to contribute to it’s health in the form of a career.
The main thing I didn’t want was a commute, which I had done previously for 2 years and which was draining and annoying and can take the life right out of you if done too long. Finally I was able to create a self-sustaining business right here where I lived.
So, now there was the time and energy for nature. I suspect this might have something to do with many people’s lack of interest or ability to contribute to the health of the planet – being tired and stressed from work. Change takes effort and when your effort is going into a job that is energy draining (as most are), you have little left after work for anything but the basics.
Anyway, this year we, Ernie and I, have decided to make a serious effort to live differently. We have been moving towards this for several years and refining our thinking and actions and have come up with many things that we feel will help move us and others towards living more kindly towards the planet. We are also now actively promoting this lifestyle to people (tactfully), hoping that they will make a few changes to their lifestyles to help out and make a difference. We do not lecture anyone, but simply mention things we and others can do in our daily conversations with people in our area.
The following are the things we ourselves are doing to feel that we are working towards the goal of protecting the health of our planet.
- Working towards growing all our own vegetables and fruits. We grow 80% of our veggies but only about 25% of our fruit. Producing our own fruit is more difficult but not impossible. We buy oranges, blueberries in season, cherries in season, and macintosh apples which we can’t grow here. We have our own apples, Saskatoons (Service berry), and raspberries. For veggies we buy cauliflower and radishes, both of which we can’t grow here successfully, and hothouse cucumbers from a different province and mushrooms grown locally. Everything else we grow ourselves and process for winter or do without.
- Reducing the amount we drive dramatically and walk as much as possible. This is easy to do especially in cities where you have public transit and can cycle most times of the year. In the country it is more difficult especially if you choose to live away from a larger centre where things need to be trucked in or you have to drive longer distances to get somewhere or buy something. As society moves towards more digital based commerce, it is likely that most things will be delivered which will save on individual car driving.
- Feed our pets as naturally and with as little waste as possible. Our dogs eat mostly raw meat, with some cooked foods such as sardines and tripe. Meat and eggs are obtained as much as possible from local ranchers/farmers. Sometimes we have to buy meat from the store, but if we do that, we save the plastic and styrofoam meat trays and reuse them for many things. There is almost no waste, where as if we fed dry dog food we would be throwing away big dog food bags, about three larges one a month. These are lined with aluminum and plastic for freshness and are not recyclable.
- Attempting to eliminate new purchases of plastic items and reduce the use of disposable plastics. This is a non-negotiable. I feel this is the most serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed currently. If we have some re-usable plastic, we won’t get rid of it just because we don’t want plastic around, but use it until it is not in good condition anymore. We don’t use shampoo anymore (water wash only) and very few store bought personal products so there is much less plastic waste. This is an area I’d like to reduce even more.
- We RE-USE EVERYTHING at least once. If it can’t be re-used, we will try not to buy it or find an alternative to it that is re-usable.
- Find new uses for most, if not all things that would normally be thrown out. This includes clothing, furniture, wood or any building material etc.
- Composting our waste. There is much that can be composted that people are not aware of, that would reduce the amount of garbage, maybe not useable for food plants, but compostable nevertheless. Cardboard is compostable by worms for instance.
- Support ethical and low-intensity animal farming for meat. In order to support this statement I won’t be including information here, but I encourage you to do your own research about red meat, farming etc. We will never be vegan as veganism is not a diet but an ethical position that rejects using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other reasons, like having pets. Yes, if you have a pet you cannot be vegan by definition. In fact I would question whether there is even anything truly vegan at all, but that is for another article. I would resort to calling yourself a “strict plant-based eater” instead. I consider myself a plant-based” eater because my diet is based on plants, but I also eat meat and eggs and a very small amount of artisan cheese. I will also not give up my connection with other species on this planet especially dogs. I feel it is a natural way for humans to live, interacting with animals and it is pleasurable. That said, I do not agree with factory or large scale animal farming. People can eat less meat and we can raise and slaughter food animals better and more humanely. We can live in harmony with animals in our lives and in domesticity. If I can’t have animals in my life because of the beliefs of a few radical people, I don’t want to be here on earth at all.
- We save things from the garbage. There are so many things being thrown out in dumps and landfills that shouldn’t or don’t need to be thrown out. Ernie and other people we know have salvaged many, many things from being burned at the dump, and we have found ways to reuse these things.
- When we buy food, we make a great effort to buy products that are produced in this country, and even better, from within our community. All our meat and eggs come from local farmers and ranchers. It is not more expensive when you eat less. We also eat wild meat, specifically deer, which is low in fat as all wild meats are. For those of you who are opposed to hunting but still eat meat, unless you only purchase meat from animals that are dispatched on the farm and under no stress from transporting, then the meat is not at the highest quality. Wild deer are not terrorized by hunting anymore than they would be if they were being hunted by wolves or coyotes, whereas transporting animals to a slaughterhouse is very stressful on the animals.
- We don’t follow fashion trends. If something is not “trendy” or current in style we don’t get rid of it. Fashion is not really important. That being said, for some people it is important, but it is a throw-away culture. Furniture, knick-knacks, clothing, etc can be kept, saved, reused. Humans do need re-adjustment on the way we think about consuming things. We choose to buy good quality, and yes, more expensive items that last longer and do not give these things an expiry date based on what the current fashion or trends are. If something is in bad shape we simply find other uses for it until it is no more. I like the idea of finding one’s own style without the influence of consumerism. There are some amazing products in the marketplace that are high quality and unique and thoughtfully made. This is what I look for when thinking about a purchase (which isn’t often).
- Houseplants. Or how about just plants in general. Need I say more? OK, I will. I’m obsessed with plants. It’s what I studied in university. I love them. Tree, shrubs, flowers, food plants, houseplants. They are useful (in all kinds of ways) and houseplants bring nature into the home. The more I have the better I feel mentally. Having a few or several in your home is beneficial for you and your surroundings, reminding us even in snowy and cold winters (if you have them) that the plant, and planet, needs assistance to live.
- Writing about what we’re doing. This is a great way to spread information and ideas to assist others in changing perceptions about how we live. Ernie and I don’t presume to know what you do or can do in your own area, but where we live, since the community is small, we can come in contact easily with others to communicate information. Writing and posting on the internet is the same thing. Easy and convenient, and it works. If you think about it, I’ll bet there are several things you could do where you live now to spread the word.
I’m sure there are more things that you and I can and will come up with to contribute to this planet project, which MUST be done now. There is now more fooling around and we cannot go back. We must do this together.
Now that I have said all this, I want to emphasize, that this post is NOT a criticism list, to make people feel crappy about how little they are doing. This is a SUGGESTION list, describing mostly what we do ourselves and what CAN be done, and how important I feel this is. We want to encourage you (I know most of you who read this are already doing this stuff) and show how easy it is to do some of these things, give ideas and to impress upon people how important it is to do these things. That’s it. We’re not saying how great we are, or that you’re a bad person for not doing what we are. Instead, I’m simply giving information.
If you feel defensive or angry at some of these suggestions, that is not my fault. It is something for you to examine within yourself, on why you feel that way.
Then, once you have done that, take action and do something great for your city/town, province/state, community, and most importantly for yourself and your family!
This is the second year that we are using our homemade dehydrator.
Last year we used it to dry garlic for garlic powder and it worked amazingly well. We will still use it for that purpose, but right now I am using it to dry my herbs.
How To Make A Dehydrator From Junk
To make a dehydrator, all you need is a container with shelves, some trays and some air flow. We had a big cardboard box in the shed. Ernie built an insert with scrap wood to hold two trays, then cut a hole in the top back of the box to promote air flow.
The table is an old coffee table that we had in storage, and the trays are screens from old windows that are long gone. All saved items. The only thing that is new is the heater/fan. We use it on the no heat setting to move the air. A regular fan could be used if that is what you have.
This dehydrator works very well. Obviously you have to turn the herbs or garlic occasionally to promote even drying but that’s no problem.
Yes, it looks weird and is not appropriate for some decor (lol), but who cares. It was free and more junk is not getting put into the landfill.
Don’t Throw Out Your Dried Up Garlic!
The garlic we use with this is what we know will not last the whole winter because there were worms in them or they drying out.
Never throw out garlic by the way, unless it is mouldy. Even if you have a small amount you can slice it into small pieces, put it on a plate, and let it air dry, turning it regularly. When it is dry, chop it in a small grinder.
The herbs dry faster in the dehydrator than just being air dried, but we use both methods on all of our herbs.
Isn’t it much better to know where your garlic powder and dried herbs come from and how they were processed rather than buying them?
Several years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.
All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.
Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.
But the most severe effect was on the garlic.
Now we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.
Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.
I was also able to find some of the small, vegetative garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazingly well and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.
Tips For A Good Garlic Harvest
Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two main reasons.
ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.
Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting. In order to grow well, a garlic plant must have been adapted to your growing region. Some cultivars will never be able to do this – they are just not hardy enough or are susceptible to too many diseases. Some will adapt well to colder or warmer climates depending on the cultivar.
But store bought garlic from a different country is not the best choice for using in your own garden. Just don’t plant it.
TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.
Planting in the spring does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.
Ideally you plant according to the weather. You don’t want it to be too warm in the fall that the garlic starts growing too much, but you also want them to put down roots and sometimes even come above ground a bit. This means that they are ready to take on the winter.
Planting the cloves fairly deep from four to six inches or more deep ( I have even heard of one local person planting a foot deep), but generally deep enough so that when the ground freezes and heaves it won’t kick the cloves out of the soil. This has happened to us occasionally in the past.
The planted garlic can be covered with a mulch or not. It depends on the expect snowfall amount. They garlic needs snow cover to survive the winter well, as we found out. if you use mulch, make sure to take it off as soon as possible in the spring to prevent mould from growing.
So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.
We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.
From now on, we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.