I believe garlic can be described as the perfect symbol that portrays both an Italian garden and Italian cooking. It is an essential part of both. There are many types, varieties and selections of garlic. Some of the most commercially grown include Spanish Roja, Yugoslavian and French. California Early and California Late are also grown, but markets seem to prefer pungent types compared to mild. Roadside and specialty markets prefer selections having pink, red or purple streaks in the skin. Supermarkets generally prefer white skin garlic. Elephant garlic is not a true garlic. It is more closely related to leeks. And then there are the Italian home garden varieties. Many of these are unnamed, having made their way to our gardens from family and friends many generations ago. The complete guide for growing garlic can be found at the AgriServiceBC website: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriservice-bc/production-guides/vegetables/garlic.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties develop a long flowering stem, called a scape, which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. Scapes should be cut from hardneck garlic plants in the early summer, as the production of bulbils can rob energy from the plant and result in smaller garlic heads at the end of the growing season. Hardneck garlic varieties tend to do best in colder climates as they are more winter hardy. Hardneck garlics peel easier. Hardneck varieties do not store as well as softnecks. They begin to deteriorate and shrivel within four to six months of harvest.
Once harvested garlic may be stored in mesh bags or slatted crates or hung in braided ropes or bunches from the rafters. Any cool, well-ventilated place will do for storage through the winter months. In very cold areas the bulbs should be protected from freezing. Garlic can also be frozen, stored in wine or oil, dried or pickled. To freeze garlic, peel the cloves and puree them with oil in a blender or food processor, using two parts oil to one part garlic. The puree will stay soft enough in the freezer to scrape out parts to use in cooking.
As far as I know soft neck garlic was the only type of garlic grown in the Okanagan. Occasionally there was one or two garlic plants that would produce a scape. If there was a field full of scapes, it was said to be planted during the “wrong moon”. Somewhere in the past 25 years the majority of garlic in our gardens seems to be the hardneck type. Many markets now sell these garlic scapes for use in stir fries. I have begun to mince the majority of my garlic scapes with olive oil, in the food processor. Some of this pulp is stored in jars to use on garlic toast or in stir fries. I add some pumpkin seeds to the rest for use in pesto sauce.
Garlic production by market venders is growing in numbers. This year I visited Janzen Garlic Acres in East Kelowna and attended the Garlic Festival in Lake Country. Janzen Garlic Acres combines a garlic market with an outdoor play space. This play and picnic are has a cow train, hayrides, play sandboxes, retro vintage tractors, seeding and transplanting activities, petting zoo and picking up freshly laid eggs. It is operated by Monde and Fred Janzen. The Garlic Festival was organized by The Ghostly Garlic market. They started in the Fall of 2013 planting 20 head of garlic in one 4x8 planter box and fast forward to 2021 they now have 40,000 head in the ground. They plant, grow, harvest, cure and process every single clove. Their products can be found at various Farmers Markets around the Okanagan Valley. At their festival numerous venders shared their garlic products. There was lots of garlic in loose, braided or dried forms. Other garlic items included: pots, grinders, towels, art, jewelry, sauces, jams, pirogies, honeys, syrups and salts.
October is the perfect time to plant next year’s crop of garlic. It can be planted in rows or, as I do, interspersed among the flower plants. Put your garlic to bed by giving it a good mulch cover and next year, once more, enjoy your garlic, however you use it.