Did you know that garlic has been used in medicine around the world for at least 5000 years? In ancient Greece, Hippocrates (the father of Western medicine) prescribed garlic for the treatment of respiratory problems, parasites, and poor digestion. In ancient India garlic was thought to be an aphrodisiac (really?!). In East Asia, garlic was used to treat tuberculosis, diabetes, and even flatulence. And in Romanian folklore, garlic was thought to protect people from vampires!
Garlic (Allium sativum) is also a delicious addition to a huge variety of recipes, and it can be grown right here in Ontario.
Garlic is a perennial plant in the same family as onions, leeks, and shallots. Over 70 varieties are grown in Ontario, although 90% of all garlic produced in the province is the “music” strain. Other varieties grown in Ontario include Rocambole, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Silverskin, and Artichoke.
Two types of garlic are hardneck and softneck. The hardneck variety is more winter hardy and produces larger bulbs, with 4-12 cloves per bulb, but sometimes take 2 years to reach marketable size. The softneck variety on the other hand generally produces smaller bulbs with 8-12 cloves, but has a longer shelf life.
Garlic is propogated vegetatively from either cloves or bulbils (small aerial cloves in place of a flower). It is generally planted in the fall and harvested in summer, but can also be planted in spring. It can be planted in a range of soil types, although the ideal soil is high in organic matter content. Optimal planting sites have good snow cover in the winter but are protected from strong winds and not prone to frost heaving.
The bulbs continue to grow into summer and stop growing once the leaves start to dry out and turn a tan colour. Garlic is ready for harvesting when 30-50% of the leaves have died back. The bulbs must be cured for a few weeks after harvest, either by hanging them to dry in bunches or by drying them with forced air.
Around 2500 acres are used for garlic production in Ontario. Depending on the variety, one acre can yield up to five tons of garlic and generate up to $25,000 for a farmer!
The Garlic Growers Association of Ontario has about 100 members. Buying local produce supports these local growers and creates jobs right here in Ontario. Also, nearly 70% of the garlic sold in the province is imported from China, so buying Ontario garlic results in a massive reduction in pollution from transportation. In our experience, local garlic also keeps longer and tastes better.
Have many types of garlic have you tried? You can find many varieties of Ontario garlic at the Toronto Garlic Festival and Niagara Garlic and Herb Festival. Let us know your favourites!