Gardening in Almonte: Mostly about the garlic!


Garlic harvest always seems to sneak up on me. I pull it when about half of the leaves have turned brown. The bulbs should not be left in the ground much longer as they can split their skins and then will not store well. Virtually all of my garlic has been harvested over the last week.

Much of the garlic I have harvested has sized up really nicely – the variety that I grow is called Music. It is a high-producing hard-neck variety with large easy-to-peel cloves and excellent flavour. It overwinters very well when planted in mid-October.

Garlic is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and has its greatest growth in the spring as it benefits from lots of moisture from snow melt. This year I grew garlic in two areas. One bed of garlic features a lovely sandy loam; the other heavy clay soil suitable for a potter’s oven. Both beds were planted mid-October and each had an inch or so of well-composted horse manure worked in when I planted them. The effects of all the rain that we have had this summer are not readily discernable – I had expected that the best results would be in the sandy loam as it had better drainage than the clay. However the opposite was true – the bulbs from the clay bed were significantly larger. I can only speculate that all the rain resulted in nutrients being leached from the sandy loam!

Garlic is great for short term when freshly pulled but it will not store well unless properly cured. Curing is simply a term used for the process used to preserve a product. In the case of garlic as well as onions it simply means to allow them to air dry in a warm place for two or three weeks. This allows the skin to dry and harden thus protecting the inner flesh from outer contaminants. Thus garlic needs to be ‘cured’ if you want to store it for an extended period. Shake off the loose earth (do not wash them as introducing moisture at harvest can invite rots and moulds) and dry in a sheltered but well-ventilated place – for example tie bunches together and hang in a garage or garden shed for two or three weeks, then trim off the roots and snip off tops to an inch or so unless you want to braid it or put a bunch together and tie them with a ribbon.

Count them! Two garlic festivals!

The Garlic Festivals in Carp and Perth are both coming up on August 12 and 13 where garlic will be the main event with 60 or more varieties for sale. If you plan to plant garlic this fall buy from a local producer – you know that what you are buying was produced locally and is suited for local conditions. Garlic that is sold in supermarkets may have been shipped in from California or China. Much of the garlic varieties being sold in retail establishments, particularly those that are braided, are soft-necked variety that may not be hardy in the Canadian climate – the hardy stiff-necked varieties are not easy to braid and are more likely to be sold tied in a bunch by a ribbon. The soft-necked varieties do not withstand our winter very well!

If you bought garlic with the intention of planting it this fall it needs to be kept in a shaded cool place with good air circulation until it is time to plant it. I leave mine hanging in my garden shed. Do not store it in the refrigerator as this is too humid and may lead to rot. Some gardeners plant garlic in September – I aim for mid-October,

Celebrating Diversity!

One of the most striking things for me at garlic festivals is the number of varieties of garlic that are on display (and for sale). Generally there are an estimated 60 varieties available ranging from very mild to very hot. As I’ve mentioned in other columns most of our vegetables are available (but not easy to find) in great diversity. However very little of this diversity finds its way into the commercial food system for a number of reasons such as consumer preference, ease of growing, uniformity of growth and harvest, adaptability to mechanized harvesting and so on. For me this is a powerful reason to grow my own vegetables and to patronize local farmers’ markets. For example, in my seed catalogue I can choose from 39 varieties of lettuce, 18 varieties of carrots, 20 varieties of cabbage, 24 varieties of peppers, and 44 varieties of tomatoes. Local farmers will not be growing this full diversity but they will certainly have more choice than your local food stores. Join the food adventure and tease your palate with a myriad of different and exotic tastes. Who knows, there may be scope for other vegetables to have their own festivals!

The Great Veggie Grow-Off

It remains hard for me to believe that in this land of wealth and abundance there are people that do not have enough to eat. The Lanark County Food Bank (that serves Carleton Place, Beckwith and Mississippi Mills) provides food to about 700 people a month. The goal is to provide enough food for three to five days once each month for those in need.

All nine Lanark communities were challenged on May1 at an event at our new Mississippi Mills Youth Centre garden to grow and donate to their local food bank. Presently all four food banks (Carleton Place, Lanark, Perth and Smiths Falls) take donations of freshly grown produce. They have been asked to weigh and record the community of origin of locally grown donations of food from May 1st until the final weigh-in. Bragging rights will be given to the community that donates the greatest amount of locally grown food as well as to the community with the highest amount of freshly grown food donated per person with the big winner always being our community’s food banks.

This Community Challenge, now in its fourth year, expanded last year to include gardeners in communities across Lanark supporting all four of the food banks in the County. The first two years the challenge pitted the municipalities of Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place and Beckwith, the towns supported by the Lanark County Food Bank (aka the Hunger Stop), and the results were amazing. We saw an increase in people in these towns growing food and sharing it with others.

A grand total of 10,094 pounds of healthy local produce was donated to the four food banks last year. At the final weigh-in last fall our judge and gardening advisor extraordinaire, Ed Lawrence, was quick to analyse the numbers and announce the winners. Mississippi Mills walked away with (but not as quickly as the previous two years) the trophy for the largest amount of fresh garden produce donated to its Food Bank (3,385 lbs.) and Drummond/North Elmsley got the trophy for most food per capita donated to its Food Bank (283 lbs per 1000 persons). In the final analysis though, it is our Food Bank families that came out on top.


The final wrap-up is again scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend. Please remember to drop off surplus garden produce at the Hunger Stop (aka Lanark County Food Bank). Bring your armfuls of produce to the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place and make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills. Or you can do as our mayor does – he drops off his extra produce at a cooler in the foyer of the Almonte library. We are very grateful to the library for making this service available as well as to the volunteers who pick up this produce and drive it down to the Food Bank.

The Food Bank is open:

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

9:00 am – 1:00 pm

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Try to drop your produce off first thing in the morning if possible.