Sunday, 15 July 2018

Garlic Harvest has Begun

Our new Seed Garlic Catalogue will be out in one month! (August 15th) 
I'll have it posted in the "Catalogue" page, replacing last year's list. 
 I expect we will have a very good harvest of Porcelains and Marbled Purple Stripes. All the other varieties look okay. This hot, dry weather has had an impact on the garlic, but all in all, it looks like a good year!

Just a note about harvest time: it probably will be a bit earlier than normal, but still make sure when you go to check on the plants that they are properly drying down from the bottom leaves, and not just from the leaf tips. It looks like they are drier than they really are in this weather, and it doesn't do to pull the bulbs out before the cloves are fully filled out. On the other extreme, don't dig them when the whole plant is crispy and dead - those leaves are wrappers covering the bulb! The bulb needs about three wrappers for good keeping, so at least three green(ish) leave are a must.
  I've dug all my Turbans, and am in the midst of digging the Asiatics, Artichokes, and some the small-bulbed Creoles, as well as a few Rocamboles.

If you happen to come out to the farm this fall to pick up a garlic order, be sure to look up at our barn roof. Last summer my Mother, Dianne (a sign painter from the pre-vinyl diecut days of hand lettering) went up there to paint this mural for us to enjoy as we work out in the garden.

You can see it from the road for a little bit, in between the trees, as you approach our farm from the East (if you are coming from Kitchener-Waterloo, say). 
In June I got a close up of it with a rare, dawn rainbow:

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A Great Breakfast Idea

A friend tried this interesting combination while feeling the incoming effects of the flu.
It's really good, actually, and very healthy, too!

  • Garlic, for anti-viral and immune boost.
  • Honey, being anti-inflammatory and healing.
  • Cinnamon, as a circulation stimulant.

I recommend it for any special breakfast or afternoon treat. Super simple to make.
Start with a fresh, hot slice of buttered toast.
Slather on some honey (garlic honey is pictured here, but that's not a necessary, since our next ingredient is fresh, crushed garlic). I advise spreading the honey first, so that your knife doesn't inoculate the honey pot with garlic flavour. Then, squeeze a fresh garlic clove through your favourite garlic press and spread that evenly over the honey and buttered toast. I suggest a nice flavourful Rocambole variety for early in the flu season. A small clove of Porcelain garlic works too. And for this time of year: whatever you have left in storage that hasn't been eaten already!
Top this off with a dash of Cinnamon.
And that's all!
Bon Appetit!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A Video with the Stratford Garlic Festival

This Summer the Stratford Kiwanis Garlic Festival was looking for Vendors to participate in creating a short promotional video for the Festival. It was great fun to have Elizabeth Kerr and Scott Wishart come out to the Farm to shoot this little film, I hope you enjoy watching it.

It features myself and the garlic in our 2017, 1/2 acre plot.
You can also see the bulbil plants that I grew this year as part of an on-going seed renewal, and a small part of where we dry the garlic and store the garlic, inside a re-purposed granary in our 1911 bank barn.  -  Julie

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Garlic and It's Many Flavours

  I've been thinking about this story lately, and just wanted to share it:

  My older sister Sheri, who used to partner with me in growing the garlic, was going on a trip over to Germany with her boyfriend last November, to visit his family there. As they were weighing their backpacks for the airport, I went and got a couple jars of the garlic powder that I make. Not being able to travel with them, I wanted to at least be a small part of their trip, in the gifts they could share with the people they met.

  Thousands of years ago, travelers would carry garlic bulbs in their packs and trade them up and down the silk road, spreading new varieties of garlic throughout Europe. Following this tradition, but also respecting Airport security, a couple jars of my dried powder got nestled safely into Sheri's pack.

  After Germany, my sister and her boyfriend Tobias, toured eleven other countries in Europe, and at the end of their trip, flew out to the Spanish Island of Mallorca, where the sub-tropical climate had everything lush and green, with olives and oranges growing even at the start of January.

  One of the places they visited there was the home of a farmer and garlic grower. With her last bottle of garlic powder, Sheri traded some goodwill. She told me later that this fellow was fervently happy to receive, "Canadian Garlic!" He lifted the lid to gasp in delight at the sharp smell of it. Canadian garlic, he said, is so much stronger and more flavourful than what he can grow in Mallorca. He was a BC resident of Grand Forks, before moving to Mallorca, and missed the taste of home.

  Making this kind of connection with someone like that, I felt, was the best part of their trip, though Sheri raised a bemused eyebrow at me when I told her so. Sheri couldn't tell me what variety Sky was growing in Mallorca, but I can imagine that whatever kind it was, it just didn't get the right winter dormancy and probably had a whole different soil composition effecting the flavour.

  In Canada we grow many varieties that are both strong and flavourful, including Porcelain types, Purple Stripes and Rocamboles. Our cold winters and warm summers, and good soils make up for the rest of it.
  In Cuba, I've heard, it is hard for farmers to grow garlic bulbs much bigger than a golf ball, though the tiny cloves are greatly priced by the locals. They owe this mostly to their lack of winter weather, or so I'm led to believe.
  Personally, I have always been a little jealous of Spain and France, for that area of mainland Europe can grow massive bulbs of Creole garlic. I have been in love with creole garlic ever since I've read Filaree Farm's description of that variety in their catalogue. Now that I have acquired twelve creole strains to grow myself, I've nick-named them "pearls of the earth"; because they are special, with their pearly sheen and long keeping abilities; but also because they are quite small in size.
  There are other varieties that I grow in Ontario, without much success, that grow really well in other parts of the world. So isn't garlic fantastic! It has travelled with people almost everywhere they have gone on the globe, and as a species, calls many many places home.

  So what makes garlic flavourful?

  Well, sulphur is one of the most important elements of flavour in garlic (and other alliums). We see this most clearly in the story of Vidalia onions, those large, sweet baseballs that are only available in season. True Vidalias are grown in Vidalia, Georgia, where the low sulphur content of the soil accounts for the mild flavour of the variety. The sweetness, really, is there all along, Vidalias may have more of it than most kinds, but all garlic and onions have a high content of sugars in their bulbs, to help with freezing and over wintering, you just can't taste it because of the heat that so often accompanies and overpowers that sweetness. Notice too, that Vidalia oinions, and most other sweet varieties of onion, do not keep as well as cooking onions. This is also an effect of sulphur. Low sulphur content in the onion bulb, or garlic clove, can be a major contributing factor to poor storage quality.
  Elemental Sulphur requires biological soil life to convert it into a sulphate before it can be used by plants. I work with a crop and livestock consultant, who told me that other consultants in the States recommend almost twice the amount of sulphur be put on the fields as a mineral amendment, than what he would suggest for Ontario. The reason being that in southern climates, the soil life is active for a longer period of time than it is for us in Canada. The soil life uses that much more sulphur (and other minerals) for every growing season, as well as possibly getting more soil leaching from high rainfall. I imagine that if sulphur is not a priority in the fertilizer, one could get sulphur deficient soils much more easily in sub-tropical climates, and consequently, produce a milder, sometimes poorly flavoured garlic.

  It is not just sulphur though. Garlic, with it's high sugar content, and coarse root structure, relies quite heavily on soil life to make nutrients available to the growing plant. It needs certain things like Phosphorus, for energy and boron for making sugar, and the whole plethora of trace minerals to give it depth of flavour and keeping quality. Flavour is one of the most complex aspects of plant genetics, and no one has quite figured it out, but we do have a starting point.

  For an experiment I tested some garlic leaves for a few basic minerals last year. One batch was from heathy plants, and one from plants that were not doing so well, and were going to be culled soon. Here were the results:

Heathy Plants:                                              Unhealthy Plants:
80.2 % Moisture                                           81.0% Moisture  
19.8 % Dry Matter                                       19.0% Dry Matter
On a Dry Basis:                                             On a Dry Basis:
1.78% Calcium                                             2.25% Calcium

0.44% Phosphorus                                        0.32% Phosphorus

0.33% Magnesium                                        0.23% Magnesium

1.09% Potassium                                          1.37% Potassium

0.01% Sodium                                              0.01% Sodium

0.32% Sulfur                                                0.29% Sulfur

31 ppm Iron                                                  38 ppm Iron                                            

32 ppm Zinc                                                  23 ppm Zinc

10 ppm Copper                                              8 ppm Copper

15 ppm Manganese                                       13 ppm Manganese

4 ppm Molybdenum                                       2 ppm Molybdenum

  Samples were taken of the top leaf of numerous plants, cut and tested in mid June. As you can see, Calcium and Potassium are higher on the Unhealthy test, but almost all the of the other minerals are lower. It actually has a less balanced mineral profile, which may be a big part of flavour as well.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Weeds are not Wonderful

Garlic cloves are a bit like tulip bulbs; they show up right away and grow rapidly in the spring. They are fast and frost hardy, and nothing stands in their way...except... yes, weeds.
 Garlic is very sensitive to weed pressure. Garlic leaves are narrow and they don't provide enough shade for a ladybug to hide in, which means that they have no real chance of out-competing broad leaf weeds, and really, any type of weed. Garlic has it's ancestry in the central region of Asia, in semi-desert lands, where competition to thrive happens with the sun and weather, not your neighbors. So the texture of a garlic leaf is thick and waxy, with a narrow shape that avoids too much contact with the sun. All traits that enhance moisture conservation. However, garlic grown for the garden or market really does do better with adequate moisture. The difficulty this year is getting moisture and not too much moisture. We've been lucky there, but many of our neighbors have not been so fortunate lately.

  On our clay soil we can't get out and till the ground or hoe weeds when it's wet, and even if we could, you would be surprised at how resilient a 1 inch tall broadleaf weed can be when it doesn't have dry soil and a hot sun beating down on it.  They come back to life!
  A similar thing can be said about large weeds that are just starting to set seed pods. At our place, we've found that it's best to break the weed stalks in a few places, or cut the top off with a hoe, otherwise they use what juice is left in the stalk to complete the task of making viable seed. You see them laying there between the rows, and even though you got them with the hoe the head is turned up to the sun.
  Managing weeds organically has been our focus for the last twenty years, however, and if you have somebody in your team (as we do) who is super ingenious and smart about setting up and maintaining the cultivators, scufflers (row cultivators) tine weeders etc, and managing their timely use, twenty years certainly pays off.

Here I am scuffling the garlic with a John Deere 40 and  the scuffler that  my father  Rob set up.
This was May 15, 2017

  We call it managing the "weed bank", which is our term to express the quota of weed seed in any given soil. Someone with a high weed bank will get an instant carpet of weeds after every spring rain. Someone with a low weed bank will see individual weeds as a threat.
  Every weed that is allowed to go to seed adds tremendously to the weed seed account, meaning that to maintain a low weed bank takes constant care. You can actively reduce the weed seed bank by short-period tillage, throughout the spring and summer. Keep this tillage shallow, for annual weeds, and it stimulates the germination of more weeds that can then be gotten. Germinate and expire at least 1000 more weeds than the ones you allow to go to seed, and you've reduced the weed bank for that growing season. It's a way of thinking. And believing in causality is part of it: if the crops are growing - weeds are growing. Count on it. If you cant see them yet, tickle the ground anyway (whether it be with a tractor-drawn unit or a hand held hoe) invariably, if you look close enough, you will see tiny filaments of tender white sprouts in the ruffled-up soil - these are weeds when its easiest to manage them. Just that simple disturbance is all that's needed to stop them. Don't wait if you have the chance to get in your field and do something about weeds, my father usually does a 5 - 10 day interval on his row crops, such as soybeans and corn. Sometimes missing an opportunity these days, means two weeks later it's still too wet to get on the field, and two weeks is a lot of time for weeds to get out of control. The ideal time to weed in any situation, is when the weeds you can see are less than 1/2 inch tall. (1 cm).
Shallow, weed killing tillage can also reduce moisture loss through the dry spells. (Not applicable if you've mulched.) The loose ground on the top 1-2 inches, created by shallow tillage, actually insulates the ground below. Soil that has been rained on thoroughly, but with no sitting water, develops capillary action through the entire top layer, meaning there are pathways for water and air to travel freely in vertical directions. Breaking the very top layer of the soil, cuts off those pathways and keeps the ground from drying out at the surface. This is one reason old organic farmers have the saying "a scuffling is as good as a rain". Another reason they say it, is that soil biology, that is active in the summer, breathes as is metabolizes. Rain water is it's lungs. As water drips into the soil capillaries, it creates movement that draws fresh air in after it. Long periods without rain can deprive the soil life of oxygenated air, making soil life go dormant, and stalling the crop. Tillage can put air into the soil to revive it. Tillage can also be used in waterlogged situations, where water has been sitting too long, and has developed a crust that not air can penetrate. As soon as it's dry enough, go in with deep points (not broad sweeps or wide bladed tools) and get air into the soil. Your crop will thank you.

This picture was taken July 13th, 2017. This is my crop. The plot is 1/2 an acre, 110 different garlic strains (you can only really see Polish Hardneck and Leningrad in this pic). It was scuffled once in the fall, once in the spring, and hand weeded at least  twice. Garlic is hard to scuffle late in season, because the leaves are susceptible to cracking, and unlike some other crops, they do not grow new leaves to compensate for the loss.
One of the reasons I use single, 30 inch rows is because double rows are too hard to weed. With singles I can use machinery to get 80% of the weeds.

To conclude, I wish you all well with your crop, and congratulate you for the hard work I know it to be. What I find special about farming is that every person and every soil has their unique system of what works best for them. Sharing is how we develop perspective, and garner new ideas.
Garlicky Regards, Julie

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.