Growing your own garlic takes a little bit of time and patience, but when you have done it once, and tasted it, you will want to do it every year! Garlic can be grown very successfully in our Prince George climate but it does take about ten months from planting, to harvesting the actual cloves. The cloves are planted in the fall and become available in the garden centres the same time as the fall bulbs (daffodils, tulips, crocus, etc). Garlic is planted in the fall so that it gets a head start for the following year. It should be planted in September which will give the planted clove enough time to produce a good root system before the frost sets into the ground.
In the spring new green shoots will emerge from the soil. A large central stalk will grow straight up and then loop once or twice with a 'scape' appearing at the very tip. The scape, if left to grow will produce a bulbil consisting of small aerial cloves, which is in place of the true flower. These tiny cloves can be dried, separated and replanted again in the fall but it will take 2-3 years before they become large enough to harvest.
If the scape is not removed, it could take energy away from the garlic bulb growing beneath the earth, making it smaller. It is suggested the scape is removed just after the stem is curling, when the bulbil becomes to form. Don't throw the scape away as this is very edible. It contains a lot of oil and is very tasty. It can be used in recipes where garlic is normally used, or it can be steamed, or used in recipes specific for garlic scapes.
Garlic is harvested in late July and August. You will notice that the green stems will begin to die back from the bottom up. When the bottom 3-4 leaves are dead and the top 5-6 leaves are still green it should be ready to harvest. Check first before harvesting all the garlic. Using a pitchfork dig up a garlic bulb. The bulb should be large and the wrappers surrounding the cloves should be intact. If the wrappers are deteriorating the garlic will not store very well and will have to be used up.
To harvest garlic dig up the bulbs with a pitch fork. Don't try to pull them out because the bulb has a strong root system and you will not be able to get the bulb to come out with the top. After the bulb has been dug up remove all the excess soil. Careful not to bump the garlic bulb as it bruises easily which could result in the cloves rotting. The garlic should be 'cured' by placing it in an airy place out of the sun for a few weeks. It can be hung in bundles or placed on wire mesh racks. After the tops and roots have dried, they can be cut off, or you can braid the tops of 10-12 stalks together and hang them.
Garlic bulbs can be stored for 6-8 months depending on type and conditions. Store it in a cool, dark place with air circulation, where temperatures are just above freezing (0-4 Celsius). A cold room would be ideal.
If you want to save some garlic bulbs for planting in September, choose only healthy, undamaged bulbs. Store them at room temperature with some humidity to keep them from drying out. Do not separate the cloves until you are ready to plant. This is also true for planting purchased garlic bulbs at the garden centre.
We planted seven different varieties of garlic in our garden at home last September and have been enjoying fresh garlic for the past few weeks. It is now getting ready to harvest. It is easy to grow, requires very little maintenance and space and is well worth the effort. Look for the garlic bulbs in early September and plant them for next years enjoyment!