Friday, 12 August 2016

Catalogue Coming Soon...

Well, we are back in business this year! We've grown a little less, so more strains will be available by the bulb only. My Price this year is $16.00/ lb, $3.50/bulb. I am also making bulbil seed available for the first time on the catalogue. Not everything on the catalogue will be available as bulbil seed, but quite a few strains are. A package of two capsuls (umbels or seed heads) is $5.00.
Looking forward to starting the season off soon! I hope to send the Catalogue out on Monday the 15th. Until then, Post any comments, and you can also reach me at Please be patient if I don't get back to you right away - I'm busy getting bulbs trimmed and cared for, as well as finishing the catalogue. Cheers, Julie

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Bettering the Odds on Fall Emergence

So, we've had an interesting Autumn here in the Stratford area. Very warm for a long time. The snow did not even stick around much after Christmas. I am sure some of us garlic growers are concerned about those green shoots emerging in pretty little rows across the garlic plot. Is it spring already, the garlic is asking?
Did we get planted too soon?
Well, above-ground growth in garlic plants in Autumn-Winter is not a flag ship for disaster, at least not here, and not if the leaves are only about four to six inches (10 - 15 cm).

One thing that I have noticed with different varieties is that the ones that have a shorter storage potential are the first to come up in the fall if it stays warm. For example, Turbans (the variety that usually only keeps for 2 months until they start sprouting), and Rocamboles ( they usually dry out clove by clove by the new year, and easily start putting out roots and/or shoots if they get even a whiff of cold while in storage). Strains from those two types are invariably among the first to poke out of the ground, from what I've observed in my informal trials, year after year.
If you can, and if you are concerned about it, planting those varieties last, or as late as possible, is one way to even the playing field on fall emergence.

 Golden Acres Farm has nice clay loam soil, which is fairly heavy if you don't know how to manage it (or can't because of weather and timing).The advantages of clay include a bigger holding capacity of cation minerals due to the negative (anion) charge in fine clay particles. Clay also makes it easier to build and maintain organic matter in the soil, and helps to regulate soil moisture during drought periods. The down side is that if you miss the planting window for garlic in the fall, you usually don't get much of a second chance where the soil gets dry enough. For those of you who have sand, and don't understand the problem, let me help you - I'm a farmer, not a brick layer, and I prefer my soil loose and permeable. Lumpy makes me grumpy.
We usually plant our garlic earlier than our neighbors because we are especially involved with the concept that soil matters. Most would say we plant too soon.

 In 2007 we planted a fair-sized plot, and because we were upping our amounts, we got seed from another grower. Our start date for planting was September 18, and we planted most of the plot in four days (except for some gift seed, new varieties we only just received in October).
So, fall was like this: warm then cool, and often sunny. On October 21, daytime temp was in the low twenties (Celsius), a week later it had frosted overnight. I walked out and accessed the growth. I could see very distinctly that only certain kinds had come up, mainly Rocamboles, a group who's early growth I understood instinctively, because that variety has poor natural dormancy. Another way to put it is that Rocamboles have evolved and adapted to respond immediately to temperature fluctuation, by growing.
 The other garlic strains that had come up were more perplexing; a Porcelain and a Marbled Purple Stripe, two varieties that usually have very good storage potential. They were also only up on some rows, and not others. The answer became more obvious when I noticed that it was the rows from outsourced seed that were 4 - 6 inches out of the ground. Those same strains of Porcelain and Marbled Purple Stripe planted from our own seed were still safely tucked in the ground.
I had known that the grower we got seed from stored his garlic in a non-insulated garage, and I saw him leave boxes of it in the sun for a period of time, something that we were always particular not to do, because we didn't want to break the dormancy of our seed, in case we ended up selling some of it as eating garlic.
 After that year we had a new reason to keep our garlic seed warm (generally above 10 Celsius) and out of the sun - from that point on we understood that we were manipulating the dormancy period so that we could plant earlier if we had to.
  As a practice it is not fool proof, but even delaying "up-stairs" growth so that the leaves are shorter come snowfall or freeze-off, may help if you get caught with a warm autumn.

That being said, above-ground growth did not show up as a reason for yield loss on our harvest that year, even though some plants were 4 - 6 inches tall in the fall. The stem of a garlic plant stays protected underground all through the growing period, and new leaves will appear from the stem in spring. The main issue is energy loss, and a little of that may be recouped by the energy that the leaves gather while they are there in the fall. So if you see the little green rows out there, don't panic. There's no point anyway, 'cause there was nothing you could do. (Unless you mulched with straw (or a similar natural material, and not black plastic) right after planting, which does help moderate the effect of sun and temperature, like an insulating blanket over the rows.)

And remember, "Better Late than Never" is not the best adage for garlic planting either. Sometimes late planting (November/December) doesn't allow enough time for the garlic to set roots and establish its self, leading to discouragingly small bulbs at harvest.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Harvesting Garlic

As harvest time approaches, I always find it is a good idea to review my garden journals and see what methods I can improve upon this year.  Even for experienced growers, choosing the time of harvest can be tricky to get right.  Turbans are the first garlic I lift, and invariably, I'll be too eager to dig up those first bulbs.  Or, I'll forget that they might have been ready last week, rush out once I've looked at the notes from last year, and find that they wont be ready yet for another week.  There really is a window of only a few days in which to harvest with perfect success, so you have to be very watchful within that late July time period.

  How do you choose the right time?  The leaves are a perfect indication. As energy moves to the bulb, the leaves loose that expensive biological molecule, chlorophyll, and turn yellow. The leaves also loose moisture and other nutrients, and begin to dry down.  I stick by a guideline of 50% dry and yellowing leaves, and 50% of leaves that are still green. It will look more like 40% yellow/brown to 60% green in the field, because the drying leaves loose volume and visual presence.  A good way is to count the leaves.  A large bulb may have 8- 10 leaves, and be ready to dig when 3- 4 of those leaves are dry, and one is yellowing.  When in doubt, err on the green side of 50-50; that way you'll ensure that you have enough bulb wrappers to clean off, without stripping the bulb. 

Freshly dug Porcelain garlic.

   Each leaf is the out-grown portion of one bulb wrapper, and the wrappers start to decay as they dry down, especially in moist or wet soil.  Therefore, the number of green leaves on the plant at harvest time is a reasonable indication of how many wrappers will be left after cleaning.  The actual time of harvest can vary quite a bit, year-to year, depending on weather patterns.  2012 was warm early in spring and dry through the summer, so our garlic harvest was two weeks early that year.  In contrast, 2014 was at least a week late, due to a slow start in spring, and a cool summer with adequate moisture (sometimes more like aquatic moisture). I estimate that our 2015 harvest may be similarly late, based on the time of the scape maturity of each variety. Compared to last year, they are quite close in timing.

 Another  factor effecting the time of harvest is the size of the plants/bulbs.  Small plants have fewer leaves, and will be ready a little sooner than large bulbs of the same strain.
  Dig too soon, and the bulb will not be well developed, and may have a decreased storage potential. Remember, the cloves fill out right at the end of growth. As an experiment, try digging just one bulb when everything is still green, and slice horizontally through the bottom off the bulb. You'll see small, under-sized buds of developing cloves nestled within lots of thick, succulent layers of wrapping, even on a full-size, otherwise ordinary plant. The drying down process is an indication that the energy of the plant is returning to the bulb, and cloves, and you do not want to interrupt this process until the balance is just right. Certain varieties do develop cloves faster, and will have firm, filled-out cloves even when all the leaves are still green, (mainly Turbans). I suspect that others, including Marbled Purple Stripes, and possibly the later types, tend to have slow bulb development, and cannot afford to be rushed.  
  However, if you dig too late, the wrappers start to split, and the keeping quality is past its peak. As soon as the wrapped cloves are exposed to air, you have roughly one or two months to use them up. 
  Dig when the whole plant is dry, and you won't have to peel the cloves, but you may have to wash them. The bulbs will have started to open to the soil, with the bare cloves pushing out from the center like the opening petals of a flower. They do this in preparation for next season's growth, giving each other as much space as they can, as they individuate from the parent bulb. They'll have very little storage value at this point. 
  If this makes it sound too hard to grow garlic, don't worry, harvesting nice bulbs it is not that difficult if you check the garlic plot regularly during that critical time frame.  Also, garlic bulbs for the home gardener can afford to be "creatively appealing", and still receive a warm welcome into the kitchen.  The best way to get a feeling for garlic harvest is simply to do it.  Your own experience is very valuable, as each gardener's system, and each variety, growing in a specific type of soil, will have subtle nuances of variability.

Each garlic strain likes to live in it's own special time, but many of the strains that belong to one variety will have matching clocks, and be ready to harvest at the same time. Here is a basic guide:
Turban - June 25 - July 10.  Dig a little sooner than the 50-50 guide, as the wrappers split open easily and the cloves are developed early anyway.
Asiatic  - July 1 - July 15.
Artichoke - July 10 - July 20.  As a softneck, some of the plants may also fall over, like onions do, just before you'll want to dig them - this is another indicator of harvest time.
Creole - July 10 - July 20.  I expect that in more Mediterranean climates, harvest would be later, owing to a larger bulb size.  Few Creoles grow really well in Ontario, but they are so beautiful, and keep so well.
Rocambole - July 10 - July 30.  These you have to be especially careful with, because the bulb wrappers won't take extra moisture at senescence.  Some strains can be a lot later than others.
Purple Stripe - July 10 - July 25.
Glazed Purple Stripe - July 15 - July 25.
Porcelain  - July 15 - August 1. These I find are pretty durable in moist soils, and the wrappers don't split open too quickly.
Marbled Purple Stripe - July 20 - August 5. Wet weather can be disastrous for this variety, as the necks are susceptible to rotting. You may want to salvage them early, if you see a problem developing. 
Silver Skin  August 1 - August 25.  Smaller bulbs may be earlier. This is a softneck type, and some of the plants may fall over close to harvest.

This is the unit we use to undercut the garlic. The red attachment has heavy blades
that slice through the soil below the bulbs, followed by steel fingers that lift and loosen.
If we get good, dry weather afterwards, we can leave the garlic like this for about three days
 before pulling it up and drying it in the barn. This can be accomplished on a small scale
 using a shovel, and just popping the soil under the bulb. Leave the bulb underground,
 otherwise the cloves will get green tips from the sun, and may heat up more than is
healthy for them. The ground acts as an insulator from light and heat, and allows us to
 vent off a little of the moisture from the plant, before it all goes inside.  
 The leaves on this Romanian Red garlic have turned mostly yellow
because they were undercut a few days before this picture was taken.
At this point I am pulling them up, cleaning them by rubbing off the dirt,
 and gathering them up to finish curing in the barn.
This is not how the plant should look if it were fresh dug,
and just being harvested.  The only reason the leaves are
 as yellow as they are, is because the roots were broken at the time
of undercutting, and that induced the plant to dry down more rapidly.  

Monday, 15 June 2015

Scapes: When to make The Cut.

A picture says a thousand words, so I'll use both here, and hope that I am not getting too wordy. Porcelains are the most fun to watch, and most Ontarians are familiar with them, so that is the example I've chosen:

 The Porcelain scapes here are newly emerged, just starting to loop, and are not yet ready to be cut. 
Note how slender the whole scape is at this point. The nascent umbel, (where the scape is white and the spathe attaches to the flowerstalk) is barely burgeoning with growth. As the scape matures, and the bulbils and flowers become more developed, the umbel swells inside the spathe, and for the varieties that do not coil, this is the way to tell when they are mature enough to cut. You can also tell by the flowerstalk: at first it is very tender, and then it becomes more fibrous and stiff. 
 Cutting too soon stalls the root and underground stem in their effort to push energy up into the plant. It causes the leaves to dry down a little earlier than they otherwise would, and it leaves the cloves with less quality, so that they will not keep as well in storage.   You see, all plants go through stages, and at this point in its life, the energy in a garlic plant is expanding, building, and travelling upwards. Later, in the last days of July, or whenever it starts to dry down, a garlic plant's energy is contracting, and travelling down to the bulb. That is when all of this spring/summer energy returns to the bulb (the engine of the plant), and rapidly fills out the cloves. The energy that was going to the umbel becomes stored energy in the clove. If you cut the scape too soon, you shorten the plant's energy cycle. 
But you do need to cut, otherwise the plant has two "reproductive nodes" where energy is going, and the divided energy may not be as sufficient as you want it to be for the bulb size. Especially on Porcelains, and any of the other varieties that put out a tall flowerstalk and tons of bulbils and flowers.   

This is a perfect, double loop, pretzel shape. 
We see this shape on Porcelains, Rocamboles, Glazed Purple Stripes and sometimes Marbled Purple Stripes. This is a fine time to cut, especially if you want to eat the scapes, or if you are really worried about your soil fertility, and do not want the scape to take any more energy away from the bulb. 
Make your cut a few inches above the last leaf.
If you look closely, there is something strange and wonderful about the Porcelain plants in this picture.

Leave the scape past the pretzle shape, and it starts to unwind. It is not too late to scape at this stage. In fact, I would call this perfect timing, because I am not concerned about eating the scape, and I want that flowerstalk nice and developed. Once, years ago, we cut our scapes too soon, and the stalk shrunk, leaving a hole in the top of the plant for rain water to run in.
Murphy's law, it was a very wet season that year. 
We lost plenty of garlic to neck rot.  

 Porcelains unwinding further... 
It is now getting quite late to cut them.
This all happens within a matter of days,
so it is important to keep and eye on them 
after they are coiled.

Porcelains take many shapes as they prepare to straighten out.
The thing is, you may not be too late if you see this in your garden,
I have harvested large bulbs from plants that were allowed to
completely mature with the scape on. I used them as show bulbs
for the Stratford Garlic Festival. 
Or, if you want to try bulbils, you can leave a few of these on to mature.
Just be careful that they do not plant themselves all over your garden. 
If you are not up to planting bulbil yet, you can always use them as garlic mints.
Happy chewing! 

Rocambole, Glazed purple Stripe, and off in the distance, a few tall Porcelains. 
If you haven't seen it before, this is what it looks like when you let things go. 
Luckily I have the excuse that I am saving these bulbil heads for seed. 
It had nothing to do with inattention....

Rocambole scapes ready to be cut.
Be very careful about leaving any cut scapes lying around, 

because they can finish putting on bulbils, even after 
they are cut. Rocamboles are especially good at this,
 the bulbils develop really fast, and then, look out for next year!

Marbled Purple Stripes are not totally loopy!
But they usually do make a full circle, some other
varieties do not. I'd be cutting this one very soon.

Purple Stripes. 
It is rare that they do any more looping 
than this, so it is important to develop a
 feel for how mature the scapes of each 
variety look at different times.
These Purple Stripes will be scaped very soon.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Planting Bulbils

Starting new strains of bulbils in pots, for future seed.
 I've planted garlic bulbils in spring and fall. There are benefits to each planting time, as I will explain in a moment. But first!- What are bulbils?
  To ask this question, you must either be new to garlic, you have grown garlic before, and done it to the "T", never allowing a single scape to escape the knife - out of sheer terror that you'll harvest marble-sized bulbs; or, you are pretty sure you know what they are, and want to hear if you're on the right track:
Bulbils are a reproductive function of the Lily family, of which garlic is a member.  Most annuals have one method of procreation; garlic has three, the bulb, the bulbil, and seed from the flowers. (Heads up: you don't have to worry about the seed from the flowers, because the ability to sustain flower growth through to maturity and seed production, has been bred out of garlic, and now requires careful intervention to achieve.)
Like the flowers, Bulbils are found in the umbel of the mature scape. They are like miniature cloves.
 Bulbils are vegetative seed, meaning that no cross-pollination occurs. A bulbil is in the same genetic shape as its parent clove. (There is a possibility that the natural adaptation that occurs even in "clone-like" vegetative seed is more apparent in the bulbils than it is in the cloves, but this is my own theory, and grossly unproven.)  Bulbils are small, compared to cloves, and it takes a while to get a good-sized bulb to grow from a bulbil, which means that most people don't see the potential of bulbils. Until you grow them, you don't. It takes a leap of faith - something like true, green heroism to venture forth into the patient and exciting world of advanced seed production. 
Bulbil plants, from an Asiatic strain called Asian Tempest.
These are directly from bulbils, and will produce
either rounds or very small bulbs, for the first harvest.
Notice that a few plants have tiny scapes.
This crop was fall planted.
All very well and good, you say, but how do we go about this act of bravery?  Well, if you plant in the fall you don't have to worry about the chilling hours I mentioned in the last post. The bulbils are also very fresh in the fall, you wont have any dried-up ones, like in the spring. One of the things I advise ( though I don't always do this myself ) is to mulch the planted bulbils lightly, to help them through the winter. Straw, grass clippings, possibly fall leaves, as long as you check in the spring and make sure they can break through the matted leaves or mulch. Some growers advise mulching after freeze-over, so that mice do not make homes in your bulbil beds. I don't have problems. It would be up to your location and whether you want to worry about this or not. I have a plan that usually works for spring planting, partly because I work with heavier soil, and I like to be able to till it unrestrainedly at least once after the snow has finished packing the soil down.

You can also plant direct-seeded, in the spring. I like to make raised beds, or ridged rows, create a one-inch deep depression, and sprinkle the bulbils in a six-inch swath. Just like fall planting, you space them about 1 inch apart, 1 inch deep. The difference with spring planting is that you have to make sure the seed has been chilled, or vernalized, to grow properly.

 A third planting option is what I did in the first picture, starting bulbils in pots. I did this the first time I grew bulbils, and decided it was time to try it again. I planted these in the first week of February and put them in a cold storage room we keep just above freezing. I'll bring them out into the sun when I judge that I can grow them to a safe size, and not too big, because I intend to transplant these out into a garden plot once the soil is fit, and I don't want them too crowded and tangle-rooted. If I had given them more room, I could keep them in pots all summer. Much easier to weed. I don't intend to babysit their sun / moisture / soil temperature needs all year though, because that is not easy for me - it is up to you and how your system works. I also spent a lot of time digging up seed from a large plot of direct seeded spring bulbils last summer, and I have a memory of that. I should have sifted them, at the very least, because planting only the biggest bulbils increases the chances of a good harvest. The tiny ones are very tedious to find, especially if they get away on you, and the tops disappear. And then the ones you invariably miss become weeds next year. With my pots, I sifted the bulbils, and then when I transplant them I will sort them again, and only grow what I really want. This all seems like more work, but it comes at a time when I am not busy harvesting the main crop of 3/4 acre of garlic, so there are benefits.

Systems, we all work on them, and each is unique. They are the guiding principle to a long and successful relationship with your business.

A few last notes: Larger bulbils benefit from being planted upright. (The pointy end where it attaches to the umbel is the end that produces roots, and should be at the bottom. The other pointy end is usually pointier, if that helps ;-)
Rocamboles are awesome, and can only take one year out of production, until they are back on the "bulb-wagon". The first growth is usually a large round ( single-clove plant ).
Asiatics and Artichokes rank a close second.
Marbled Purple Stripes and Purple Stripes can be done in 2-3 years.
Glazed Purple Stripes and Porcelains can take longer.
I haven't gotten much experience with Turbans yet, or silver Skins. Creoles are small to begin with, so I'm not sure when they hit their potential ( I've got year one started, and counting...)

Pink, maturing bulbils on a Purple Stripe scape. These bulbils can be used as seed.
The flowers are nicely visible yet, as they are still budding.
The flowers are small, in comparison to the bulbils.
 Later, they will wither, as the bulbils steal too much space and energy.
Garlic flowers are small and numerous, ranging from
 white to purple in colour, depending on variety.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Planting Garlic in the Spring

Ah... Spring is finally here, peeking demurely at us from around the edges of dense, half-melted snow. I've gotten a few calls already for garlic seed. There are always a few who want to plant it in the spring, and are disappointed to find that seed is hard to come by. I never keep any amount of seed quality garlic stocked for spring because it sells so well in the fall, it looses weight over the winter, and I'd be taking risk that it may spoil. I also don't like keeping seed for spring planting because the bulbs loose some vigor by being kept dormant, and I understand that garlic grows so much better when planted in the fall. I don't have very much experience with spring planted crops, and how the bulbs fare out for size, but what I've heard is usually not so promising.

  In Ontario, I always advise planting garlic in the fall ( late September - late October is best, for most regions ). The time spent underground through the winter is not wasted time. Garlic cloves go to work immediately once they are in the moist ground. This is the starting flag - the moment they have been waiting for! The conditions are right for rooting, and the clove skins start to pop as these vigorous little root nodules expand into new territory. Humidity is what tells garlic to start this part of dormancy period termination.
  Temperature is the factor that acts as a clarion call for upward growth. Sometimes, if the fall is right, and you planted "too soon" ( you never know until the fall is over, because in another year, that might have been the right calendar date anyway ) your garlic will experience some cold, and then a period of warm weather that will draw the green shoots out of the ground. This is not disastrous, so long as the plants don't waste too much energy getting really big above ground, just to flash-freeze later. Above-ground leaves die off over winter, but if the leaves are 3 - 4 inches or less, the root stock can recover from this loss fairly easily.

   Ideally, garlic planted in the fall will devote this time to root growth, and the cold will both trigger leaf growth, and hold it in check until spring. Garlic can freeze in the ground, and still come up in spring, so long as the freezing happens slowly enough and there is no water sitting, or ice over the ground, creating anaerobic (airless) soil conditions. Even at very cold ground temperatures, garlic will continue to extend roots into the soil. This way, when warm weather comes in April, the garlic has a head start, and emerges like a magic trick, growing fantastically fast for the first two weeks.
  Spring planted garlic doesn't have that advantage. What's more, if the seed garlic hasn't been treated to a vacation of cold temperature ( weird, I know, most of us like to go where it is warm for a vacation, but garlic is special); if the garlic seed has been stored consistently, just below room temperature, over the winter, it won't know what to do with itself when planted in the freshly tilled ground of April. Sure, it will grow, but to bulb properly garlic requires the right ingredients of cold temperature, and time. Rather than try to figure out the proper proportion, I like to delegate that to mother nature.

   I have occasionally planted garlic in the spring. I do this mainly with bulbils, which are a secondary seed source of great potential.  I try to give the seed at least a month to six weeks, at temperatures a bit above freezing. So far as I can figure,each variety may need a different amount of cold time, or chilling hours, but I haven't decided on the numbers yet, so I play on the safe side of excess. I've planted bulbils in the spring without doing this, and the results are only good for Chistmas garlic greens. You might harvest a little seed that way, but it is usually down to luck, because the bulb formation doesn't happen. Garlic needs seasons.  Look at it's close relative, allium cepa, the onion. Onions have a most particular need for the daylight patterns of the summer solstice to set the internal clock for bulb maturation time. Garlic is flexible, but not fooled. It needs temperature patterns in the same way.

  I've seen University students fail to recognize this. A few years ago, Guelph did a clean seed trials program with the Garlic Growers Association, using tissue culture regeneration to remove all viruses from a common strain of Music garlic.  It was great idea, and has been done successfully with potatoes for decades. Unfortunately, their use of a greenhouse to nurture the sterilized seedlings did not provide the right temperatures. The garlic seedling wouldn't die down when they were supposed to, and failed to produce viable seed.
  I was granted a packet of this seed because I'd given my name to grow it out as part of the continuing trials. Out of a few hundred dehydrated, leek-like tiny bulblets, five were properly formed, with storage capabilities and protective skins. Only much later, when I tried growing spring bulbils that were stored in our house until May planting, did I come to understand why the University had had this problem.
 This is part of seed saving. Part of understanding the exquisite way in which the species have evolved to survive in their native climate. Long ago, the weather patterns were more consistent ( I think ), and this was garlic's way of timing its growth to benefit from everything the seasons had to offer; staying dormant sometimes, and rapidly producing new seed at other times, but always remaining alive, and patient.
 Like the garlic, I've been fairly dormant this winter, waiting dispassionately for chance rays of inspiration. I like to think that time spent in this way is not wasted, but is spent rooting a little deeper into life, so that when the spring comes rushing in like a tide, we are ready once more to leaf out and seize the sun.

Monday, 11 August 2014


Hello, and Welcome to my blog. 
I am looking forward to sharing all of the subtle and intuitive details of my experience in observing and growing garlic as an Ontario garlic farmer. Most especially, as one who specializes in collecting rare and heritage types of garlic.  I shall also attempt to be practical, and offer some straight-forward growing tips, planting guides, and other interesting information on soil, gardening, and related topics.
  I've been growing garlic with my family for over 10 years, and I can't say that it has ever been as late to harvest as it is has been this year.  We are still busily at it, so I'll leave my further writings for later.  If you have a question or would like to leave a comment, please do so.

Garlicky Regards, Julie Fleischauer