Grow Garlic in Alberta

A year in the life of Alberta garlic.

Garlic is easy to grow!

Alberta garlic, grown near Edmonton

We cook with garlic almost every day. Yes, garlic is a necessity. True garlic lovers crave the freshest bulbs -  however much of the garlic sold in supermarkets in Alberta comes from far away. Garlic does grow well in Alberta.  And it is easy to grow - the perfect crop for a backyard garden in Edmonton.

A bulb of fresh garlic grown locally sells at farmer's markets for $3 and more. But if you have a small, sunny plot of  well-drained, fertile land, you can grow your own great garlic in Alberta.  

grow your own garlic
For the largest bulbs grow the 'hardneck' varieties of garlic. The stem is tough, and the bulbs are large and pungent. Buy this garlic in August at a local farmer's market. Ask the seller if the garlic was locally grown. Is this garlic good for replanting? Does this garlic 'overwinter' in the ground?

Hardneck garlic has a longer growing time. In late September, when first planted, it sets down roots. The ground freezes, and when it thaws the following spring, the garlic continues to grow. It is harvested in August.

The beautiful, pungent  hardneck garlic pictured above is a heritage variety that was grown just outside of Edmonton by an expert garlic grower. The garlic was planted in mid to late September the year before. It overwintered in the ground and was harvested the following August. The largest bulbs were saved for replanting. Fresh, it was delicious, cooked it was delicately aromatic. I was lucky to get my hands on a few of these bulbs, handed down for generations, and of a variety that obviously grows well in Alberta. 

Grow Garlic

I planted my heritage garlic in the last two weeks of September in our Edmonton backyard garden. You don't need to plant garlic in a raised bed but I prefer one for better drainage and deeper loam. (Our garden is soggy in spring). Garlic flourishes in full sun.

The bulbs were carefully separated into cloves just before planting. I started with about 40 cloves. The sunny garden bed was prepared by digging in compost and dried leaves. The soil was light and fertile.

Each garlic clove is planted pointed end up, flat end down, about 3-4 inches deep, so that the top of each clove is covered with about 2 inches of dirt. We plant the cloves about 6 inches apart. Each row is about 7-8 inches apart. This may be a bit crowded, but we have had great success. Plant the largest cloves for the biggest bulbs.  

After planting, I normally do not water the bed. Later, in late October, cover the bed with several inches of dried leaves - to moderate temperature swings. Over winter, snow blankets the bed. 

In late April, when the snow is gone, gently lift by hand a few leaves to see if the garlic shoots are up. The leaves are pulled off carefully by hand to uncover the garlic shoots in early May.

In June and July cut off the curly garlic scapes ('flower' heads and stems) to use in savory dishes. The scapes were an unexpected treat.  Chop up the tender scape stems and cook them as you would garlic, in savory dishes. 

August, 2012....the garlic crop was wonderful! At last, my own fresh Alberta grown garlic...and lots of it! So delicious. 

To harvest the garlic, wait until a few of the bottom leaves have yellowed. Pull up one bulb in late July or early August to check on the size. Carefully dig all the garlic up when the bulbs are large and well-formed - usually in early to mid August. Loosen the dirt under each bulb with a pitchfork, and then pull it up at the base of the stem. Be careful not to damage the bulb. If the bulbs are quite muddy, give them a quick rinse-off. Ideally try to harvest the garlic when the soil is dry. Sometimes that is not possible due to heavy rains. 

Cure the garlic in a dry shady spot with good air circulation, for 2-3 weeks. The relatively dry humidity in Alberta helps the drying process along. Save the largest bulbs for planting in mid September. Trim the stems to about 2 inches, and the roots to less than 1 inch. Store garlic in a dry, dark cardboard box. It is best used fresh.

Update: August, 2013....even more wonderful garlic.
Update: August, 2014....over 80 full bulbs from a 5 x 8 foot raised bed. 
Update: August, 2015....over 100 big bulbs.....
Update: August 2016.... again over 100 bulbs....maybe next year I will make another garlic bed. We use up our garlic by December and I give some of it away - fresh garlic makes a lovely gift!

Edmonton Garlic Harvest

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