Thursday, 31 July 2014

Garlictown at Thistletown Collegiate

A super fun crop being planted by a super fun Thistletown Collegiate student!

 A fun crop to plant that is well suited to people with limited commitment or availability to engage in regular garden maintenance is Allium sativum, or garlic.  Growing garlic is as simple as planting and harvesting!  So long as you have a lot of patience, nothing could be easier!
If you're ready and willing to try your luck at growing garlic, you will just have to keep in mind that although it can be an easy crop to produce, timing is everything when it comes to success with garlic.

  We planted a garlic crop on October 14, 2013 at Thistletown Collegiate because garlic requires exposure to cold temperatures to stimulate growth.  The beds to be planted were selected for having full sun exposure, protection from strong winds, well-drained soil, and good snow cover during the winter months.   

Healthy garlic bulbs cured and saved from the summer 2013 garlic crop were separated into individual cloves just at the time of planting.  This step involves cracking off the cloves from the base plate of the garlic bulb, and must be done very carefully so as not to bruise or damage the cloves in any way before planting.   



Each clove was placed into the soil about 1 inch deep and spaced out approximately 6 inches apart in rows approximately 6-8 inches apart

When preparing to plant garlic, be aware that planting too early or too late in the fall can lead to unsuccessful crop development!  If it is planted too early in the fall, young shoots may emerge from the soil and be injured during the winter season; similarly, if planted too late, newly planted cloves may not have adequate time to develop winter hardy root systems.  



 Immediately following planting, a thick mulch of straw approximately 4 inches deep was added for protection over the winter, to help moderate soil temperatures and protect roots and shoots.  This straw mulch is also effective at helping maintain soil moisture content and provide weed control during the summer growing season.  Very little weeding and watering was needed to maintain the garlic because of the use of straw mulch.


As soil and air temperatures increased in early May 2014, strong spring growth was demonstrated by overwintered plants at the Thistletown Collegiate schoolyard garden.  After several weeks of increased temperatures and moderate watering, the garlic plants quickly grew to healthy waist-high plants.  

By late June the plants had grown sufficiently to begin producing scapes, which eventually form bulbils if left on the plant to mature.  As bulbil production has been shown to reduce bulb yields, it is advisable to remove the scapes by pulling or cutting them off after they have curled but before they have straightened out.


In late June and early July, the scapes (in the photo above they are matched with flowering onion stalks) from the garlic plants at Thistletown were harvested and distributed amongst local food banks, farmers' markets, garden volunteers, and the culinary arts program at the school.  Garlic scapes are a much sought after delicacy for their fresh and subtle garlic flavour.  

The bulbs were finally harvested in late July following several days of careful monitoring of the plant's leaves for drying and turning tan brown.  After approximately  30%-50% of the leaves died back, the garlic bulbs were harvested with the aid of a garden fork used to loosen the soil and facilitate hand lifting.  Harvesting requires some particular care as the bulbs are easily damaged, and would consequently lead to difficulties curing the garlic bulbs.  



In order to prepare the garlic for storage by minimizing microbial and fungal infection and water loss, the plants were hung up (they can be spread out on racks too) in a cool location with plenty of air circulation and away from direct exposure to sun. Once the garlic is fully cured, the garlic tops and roots will be removed and the bulbs will be placed on open trays in a well-ventilated area. 
The garlic raised at the Thistletown Collegiate schoolyard garden this summer produced large firm bulbs that will be donated for preparation and processing by the culinary arts program at the school.  This years crop will no doubt be wowing Toronto's garlic lovers in the form of Garlic Lovers Salsa, fresh made to order pasta, and Ultimate Caesar Salad presented at the Toronto Garlic Festival (http://www.torontogarlicfestival.ca/on) Sunday, September 21, 2014 hosted at Evergreen Brick Works.  And of course all proceeds from sales at the event will help fund eighteen secondary school students to join a culinary journey to Spain and France in 2015 led by culinary arts instructor at Thistletown Collegiate Keith Hoare.






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