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!
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.