I use a lot of garlic. While I’ve grown it off and on over the years, I’ve never planned for the future of my garlic patch. I’d buy bulbs in the fall and plant in October, then eat all I harvested the following year thinking if I decided to grow it again, I’d buy more bulbs at the garden centre.
That changed in 2019 when I walked into the feed store and saw locally-grown organic garlic for sale. Something in my brain said, “Buy it; grow it; grow it again. Be sustainable in garlic.”
Stepping onto the Self-sustaining Path
With little money to invest in my big plan, I bought one bulb. That one bulb had three cloves. It was already mid November but the ground was still workable, so I planted the three cloves at the end of a garden bed that had grown tomatoes that year. After tossing a small mound of hay and two evergreen boughs over the patch, I walked away and hoped for the best.
Planting 3 cloves of garlic in the garden November 2019
In the spring of 2020, I was rewarded with three vigorous stalks. The type I grew is called hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon). Most of the bulbs sold at supermarkets is softneck garlic.
Garlic grows best in well-drained soil. This is important as fall and spring often bring heavy rains and if the ground is saturated, the cloves will rot. Grow it in a spot that receives 6 to 8 hours per day of sunshine. I plant about 4 inches deep, 8 inches apart. While some sources say loose soil is best, I use the no-dig method. This means I add an inch of compost to the top of the garden each year, and I do not till it. I used to till, but I stopped about four years ago.
To plant my garlic, I drive the trowel into the soil about four or five inches, hold it there and slid the clove down the metal shaft and into position with the pointy end up. I remove the trowel and the soil fills in. That’s it. I can plant a lot quickly. However, in the fall of 2019, I had only three cloves to plant.
Scapes are the long flower stalks that shoot up from the tall slender stalk with leaves. The swell at the tip is where the flower and eventually the seed will grow. The interesting thing about these stalks is they curl in a unique, artistic manner. While one might like to leave these on to add interest in the garden, if they remain, they will use energy that would otherwise go to the bulb in the ground and make the bulb smaller.
When these flower stems curl to make one complete loop, they should be removed. With thumb and forefinger at the base of the stalk, bend it and it snaps off easily. Don’t worry, you’re not wasting anything; these scapes are excellent in many recipes. I use them in soups and scrambled eggs. They can be used right away, or cut into a size to fit into a container and put in the freezer to be used as necessary. That’s what I do, so in the winter, I enjoy a little scape with my eggs.
My jar of frozen scapes and one chopped up for my scrambled eggs
This is an added bonus to hardneck garlic that softneck doesn’t produce.
On July 6, 2020, I harvested my three scapes and froze them.
Summer Harvest 2020
With hardneck garlic, when 1/3 of the leaves have turned brown, it’s time to harvest. Given my cloves went into the ground a month later than they should have, I didn’t harvest my garlic until August 8th. Oh, but what lovely bulbs they were. Large and solid with great colour. Feeling the grooves, I learned that from the three cloves planted in November, I now had 11 cloves (2 bulbs with 4 cloves; 1 with 3).
After harvesting, clean up the garlic by peeling off its outer skin.
While I could have eaten a few of these cloves, I was determined to make a real dent in my sustainability with garlic, so I sustained. I hung the garlic with about seven inches of the stalk remaining in a dry, shady place outside for three weeks. After that, I moved it to a cool room in the house, out of direct sunlight. That’s where it stayed until planting time.
Planting Fall 2020
On October 26th, I planted my 11 cloves. This time, I chose the top of a very long bed, about 30 feet from where they grew the previous year.
The bulbs are broken into cloves and planted in October.
To my surprise, my nephew gave me two organic bulbs, both hardnecks, one Mexican Purple and one Chesnok Gourmet Purple Stripe. Both are late varieties. If I remember correctly, this translated into 10 or 11 cloves.
I planted these two varieties in a different section of the garden as my original garlic to ensure I didn’t mix them up.
Sustainability in the Future
I’m not going to consume my organic garlic next year. At least I don’t think I will. Okay, maybe I’ll take one bulb for myself. However, if I didn’t, I’ll have at least 33 cloves (11 cloves planted = 11 bulbs to harvest x 3 cloves each) to plant in the fall of 2021. That will translate into approximately 99 cloves to plant in the fall of 2022.
My nephew’s donation aside, within two years, I will be completely sustainable when it comes to garlic. That means I’ll have enough to eat during the year and enough to plant and replenish my supply.
I could have done this faster if I had bought more garlic at the beginning in the fall of 2019, but this shows how cheaply and easily one can be self-sufficient in garlic in a reasonable amount of time. That one purchase of garlic in 2019 cost $1.50. It cost me nothing to plant, harvest or store it. Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow, and is extremely low maintenance. So, for less than $2, I will be self-sufficient in garlic in four growing seasons.
My Garlic Future
I’ll continue to increase my yield of garlic in all three varieties. Within five years, I hope to sell a portion of the harvest to the public. Who knows, maybe I’ll become the garlic queen of New Scotland.